The Return of Alice the Amorphophallus
May 2005 Amorphophallus Diary
by Jennifer Davit, Conservatory Manager
May 15, 2005
Can you believe that Alice, commonly known as the Corpse Flower, actually opened on Friday the thirteenth! The stench was incredibly horrible; I’m thankful that it comes in waves, providing some relief from the unbearable smell. However, removing yourself from Alice’s proximity does not guarantee relief from the odor. When I returned home Friday evening, my cat went into a sniffing frenzy and I realized the scent had come home with me. I quickly jumped into the shower and threw my clothes into the washing machine. Luckily, I was able to remove the scent of rotting meat from my clothing, and myself giving my nose a break before returning to work the next day.
May 12, 2005
It’s a good thing I am not a meteorologist; predicting the future is clearly not my calling. I cannot imagine having to make daily predictions. Trying to estimate when Alice will bloom is driving me crazy. The ruffled edge of the spathe is very red in color now and looks as if it is separating some from the spadix. This is an indicator that Alice will bloom soon, but how soon is the question. Could it be tonight? Could it be tomorrow? I have no idea and some of the other predictors of an impending bloom are not present yet. Other factors such as temperature, humidity, and light could also influence when Alice will open. It’s just a waiting game now. How perfect it would be if Alice the Corpse Flower opened on Friday the 13th!
May 11, 2005
Every morning I come into work, photograph Alice, and measure her bloom. To measure her bloom I stand upon one of the tables that is strategically placed and covered with spiny bromeliads to prevent people from touching and damaging the bloom. This morning as I was measuring her, a thought flashed through my mind…what if I slipped while measuring her and crushed her bloom. This would surely end my career in the public garden field. I would never work at a botanic garden again, unless of course I changed my identity. I would also need immediate medical care, as I am very allergic to the sap of most aroids and break into hives after brushing against a cut leaf. Luckily, this did not happen. There is also little chance that this would ever happen, so don’t worry.
However, when the Amorphophallus titanum was first discovered in the wild by Odoardo Beccari in 1878 he and his team did have an experience similar to my fear. They found the plant in bloom and proceeded to unearth the large tuber from which the bloom was growing. This tuber had a circumference of 5 feet and was extremely heavy. As the men tried to lift the tuber, one of them slipped and the giant tuber broke, killing the plant! Luckily I have a team of strong and careful volunteers who help with repotting the plants every year, and prevent such a tragedy from occurring. Maybe I will also harness myself in to make sure I don’t slip while measuring Alice every morning.
May 9, 2005
Alice is definitely healthy and growing at an amazing rate. She is already up to 5 feet 7.5 inches! I am very impressed, but I think some of the other plants are getting a little jealous. The orchids in particular have picked up on all the attention people are giving Alice and are trying to steal her spotlight. They have all started blooming and producing flowers that seem to be larger, brighter in color, and more scented than normal. I guess a little healthy competition can be a good thing. However, I do not think any flower can compete with a bloom that you can smell from 150 feet away.
May 5, 2005
I must admit I am amazed that Alice is blooming. I had not thought much about her after some of my volunteers and I repotted her on March 30. We thought she looked pretty large then and she was definitely heavy, weighing over 80 pounds, but I was focused on orchids and the Victoria amazonica. We did give her a high dose of fertilizer, and it looks like that is really paying off. She is larger than other plants have been at this stage, hinting that she may produce the largest bloom we have ever had. She is also growing at a rapid rate! Yesterday she was 48 inches tall and this morning she measured 53.5 inches. Let’s hope she keeps growing like this. Let’s also hope that bloom size does not correspond to odor intensity and foulness, or our neighbors on Campana Avenue may have to evacuate.
May 4, 2005
The first time I experienced an Amorphophallus titanum in full bloom, I happened to be serving as an intern at a garden in Southern California. I also happened to saw through my finger while removing bamboo the previous day. This injury proved to be quite serendipitous for the rest of the garden’s staff, as I was now unable to garden and destined to fill the post of guarding the Amorphophallus and answering questions. This may sound like a benign task, but when you factor in the nauseating stench of rotting fish emitted by this bloom, you can imagine how intense every hour of that day was. This year I am thankful for Fairchild’s wonderful volunteers who have jumped at the chance to help interpret this amazing bloom and provide some relief for those of us with weak stomachs. Let the countdown begin!
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