The plants are often called “corpse flowers” because they smell like “roadkill on a hot summer day,” the greenhouse coordinator says. The plant’s formal name is from the Ancient Greek: amorphos, “without form, misshapen” + phallos, “phallus”, and titan, “giant.”
Biological Sciences Greenhouse Coordinator Joan Leonard named Ohio State’s first corpse flower “Woody,” after Ohio State football coach Wayne Woodrow “Woody” Hayes. She named the corpse flower that bloomed last weekend “Jesse,” after track star Jesse Owens.
Corpse flowers are typically between 6 and 8 feet tall and are native to the rainforests of Sumatra, Indonesia. It can take several years for a corpse flower to bloom, Ohio State says. Then, the plant’s scent attracts pollinators, generally flies. But in the greenhouse, the plants must be pollinated by hand.
So how did Ohio State first get one of these big boys? Ohio State’s Biological Sciences Greenhouse is glad you asked:
Our Titan Arum [as corpse flowers are also known] was planted from seed in November 2001 in the OSU Biological Sciences Greeenhouse. The seed was obtained from the University of Wisconsin-Madison from “Big Bucky” which bloomed in June 2001 and was hand-pollinated with pollen preserved from “Mr. Magnificent”, a May 2001-blooming Titan Arum at the Marie Selby Botanical Garden. This ["Woody"] is the first documented Titan Arum grown from seed to bloom in Ohio. We have 5 specimens in the collection from this lot of seeds.
Wondering why Ohio State is growing these giant stinky flowers? It’s partly because the plant is close to extinction:
About 70 percent of its rain forest habitat in western Sumatra has been destroyed through illegal logging and farmland expansion, Leonard said. Researchers hope to keep the plants alive in greenhouses and pollinate them by hand. That way, a stockpile of titan arums will exist, preserved for a time when they can be returned to Sumatra.
And it’s a teaching tool tool too:
“We have (the Titan Arum) as part of our teaching collection,” Leonard said. “We use it not only to talk about conservation efforts and rare and endangered species, but also to represent the dynamic diversity of plant life.”