After a week of hype and excitement, UC Santa Barbara’s corpse flower finally started blooming Tuesday afternoon, eventually filling the campus greenhouse with its signature putrid smell that knocked visitors back on their heels. Hundreds of people lined up to gawk at the rare plant indigenous to Sumatra’s rainforests and designed to attract fertilizing flesh flies and carrion beetles. Many showed up Tuesday evening when the titan arum was literally still warming up — its spadix reaches body temperature to better waft the smell — so returned Wednesday to get a better whiff.
The corpse flower, named Chanel, was artificially fertilized with pollen from another titan arum that recently bloomed in Washington, D.C. Though the bloom will wither away in the next day, greenhouse manager Danica Taber said on Wednesday she’s enjoyed all the attention it’s getting, despite having to put up with the rotten fumes for hours on end. She’s worked with other strange and funky plants, and said of the weird botanical specimen, “It’s the smelliest I’ve smelled without question.” Taber playfully admitted she trapped some of the stank in a mason jar and released it in her apartment to the horror of her roommates.
While the university isn’t studying Chanel from a research standpoint, it’s using the titan arum — the oldest of three living at UCSB — as a tool to teach the masses about a unique and relatively unknown piece of the biosphere. Like so many other plants and animals that call the rainforest home, titan arums are struggling to keep their numbers up because of deforestation and other human impacts.
Taber said they’ll know if the fertilization attempt was successful if Chanel’s spadix stays erect after the flower dies. If that happens, the 4.5-foot-tall perennial herb will then start producing fruit, bright orange and red orbs the size of cherries that run along the tall shaft. Despite the grimaces and plugged noses of the human guests, Taber said the other plants in the greenhouse haven’t reacted to their air’s new scent.
Admission to the greenhouse is free. Titan arum signs posted at the university entrance direct visitors to Lot 18, where parking costs $5 for two hours. From there, titan arum signs guide visitors from Lot 18 to the greenhouse.