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UWM Greenhouse Sees First Corpse Flower Bloom, After Eight Years Of Waiting

UWM's titan arum
UWM Biological Sciences
A still image from the time lapse of the first titan arum bloom in the UW-Milwaukee Biological Sciences Greenhouse.

Last month, something rare happened at the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee Biological Sciences Greenhouse. A titan arum, or corpse flower, bloomed there for the very first time.

The corpse flower is known for its size and smell. When it blooms, it produces smells that have been compared to rotting flesh and sweaty feet. It takes years for these flowers to bloom and when they do, there’s a short window of time to see it, smell it and study it.

Paul Engevold is the greenhouse manager at UWM and one the people who watched the bloom of the titan arum named Hoot — named after retired UWM professor and botanist Sara Hoot, Ph.D.

“Anybody that’s driven by Wisconsin roadways with their windows down on a nice spring day can understand the smell of the deer rooting on the side. [Hoot] smells a little bit like that, mixed in with rotten garlic and sweaty feet,” he explains.

The process to get Hoot to bloom began back in 2013 when the first titan arum seeds were planted in the greenhouse. Engevold says taking eight years to bloom is about average, with some plants needing up to 12 years for the first bloom.

Hoot started to show signs of blooming for about two weeks but even with an eight year lead up, the bloom was still not guaranteed.

“At that point, we’d become very, very nervous. Anything could cause it to abort — lack of heat, lack of humidity, lack of enough stored reserves,” he says.

But on Saturday, April 17 Hoot finally bloomed. The greenhouse documented the several day process in a time lapse video.

“Hoot opened on Saturday around 3:00 and started to close roughly Sunday afternoon, maybe 5 p.m. It was completely closed by Monday afternoon and collapsed by Wednesday. Some of them stay open two or three days but those are the larger older plants. So, your window of timing is very short to see it,” Engevold explains.

The greenhouse has nine other corpse plants, including two from the same batch of seeds that grew Hoot that are currently growing and awaiting their first blooms. Hoot has now been reburied; it’s not known for certain if the plant will be able to rebloom. Other titan arum’s have been documented to come back every two to three years after their initial growth.

“This one could bloom again in two or three years and may continue to do that. That is our hope,” Engevold says.

Becky is WUWM's executive producer of Lake Effect.
From 2020 to 2021, Jack was WUWM's digital intern and then digital producer.
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