Corpse Flower at NC State
A rare plant puts on a spectacular show --- and makes a big stink.
What’s All The Stink About?
Fortunate we are! Since 2016, we’ve experienced three bloom cycles of the rare titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum). 2016, 2019 and most recently in 2021. This special plant, also known as the corpse flower, smells like rotting flesh as it blooms. On all three occasions the plant grew to be more than five feet tall and it unfolded into a magnificent flower around three feet wide.
Everything You Wanted to Know About a Corpse Flower …
And More …
Facts About Corpse Flowers and Our Own Dear Lupin
Scientists at NC State watched a tropical plant closely as it bloomed in late September 2016, sending out not just a big flower — one of the biggest in the plant kingdom — but a big stink as well.
From Beginning to Bloom
How a Corpse Flower Took Root at NC State
Brandon Huber, who received his Ph.D. in horticultural science in May 2021, received his titan arum 11 years ago when he was visiting the Huntington Botanical Gardens in California. Then, it was a dormant 4-year-old corm, an underground stem about the size of a softball. The corm now weighs about 60 pounds, down from its heaviest weight of 120 pounds in 2019. Huber brought the titan arum with him to NC State.
The plant’s first bloom in 2016 came amid a rash of corpse flower blooms nationwide. Only a few hundred Amorphophallus titanum blooms have occurred in cultivation in the past 132 years, when the first one bloomed in London.
Huber and Diane Mays, who curates the greenhouse conservatory where the plant is held, both said the blooms have been fascinating events for plant lovers. “I feel like I have a front row seat. To have it in our region and our greenhouse, we feel very special,” Mays says. “It’s such a spectacular plant.”
A Howlingly Pungent Flower Named Lupin
How the Plant Came by Its Name
To honor the plant’s connection to NC State, Huber has named it Lupin, after Remus Lupin, a werewolf from the Harry Potter series whose name comes from the Latin word meaning wolf. In addition to watching the livestream video on this site, you can follow the plant’s progress on Instagram and Twitter using the hashtag #Lupin2016
Huber has three titan arums growing in the NC State University’s conservatory greenhouse. Lupin (the original corpse flower that is named after the Werewolf in the Harry Potter series), Wolfgang (which may bloom for the first time as early as late 2022), and a yet-to-be named clone of Lupin.
Huber is trying to create new Amorphophallus hybrids by crossing titanum with other more hardy species. His goal: to create a hardy plant that gardeners can grow outside.
About the Owner
Brandon Huber, Ph.D.
Huber has been growing plants since early childhood and as a teen won several prizes for aroid plants he entered in for the Philadelphia Flower Show. Aroids are members of the Araceae family of plants, sometimes known as the Philodendron or Arum family.
Huber has earned two degrees at NC State: a master’s and a Ph.D., both in horticultural science. His master’s research is on breeding stevia, a natural sugar substitute. His Ph.D. research focused on controlled environment horticulture, where he studied ways to optimize efficiencies of indoor growing systems through various approaches including carbon dioxide enrichment, spectral quality and air velocity. These factors make growing vegetable seedlings indoors more sustainable and economical.
In addition to working as the plant physiologist at AgEye Technologies, a biotech company exploring AI technologies in controlled environment agriculture, Huber will be a visiting lecturer at NC State, teaching a course on vegetable production in Fall 2021.
Corpse Flower Quick Facts
What is a titan arum, or corpse flower, and why do horticulturists care about something that smells like spoiled meat?
Because It’s a Rarity in the Plant Kingdom
- The titan arum has one of the largest flowering structures in the plant kingdom. While this structure looks like a huge single flower, it’s actually an inflorescence, or stalk of many flowers.
- The titan’s flowers grow at the base of the central phallus-like structure, or spadix, and are hidden by a skirt-like covering called a spathe. The spathe is bright green on the outside, and when it blooms, it reveals a deep burgundy on the inside.
- The rare titan arum is a tropical plant, having been found by Italian botanist Odoardo Beccari in Sumatra, Indonesia, in the late 1800s. It grows near the edges of rain forests, which means it needs warm day and night temperatures and high humidity.
Because It’s Got Some Cool Names
- The plant got its common name, “titan arum,” from the naturalist Sir David Attenborough, who thought viewers of his BBC series The Private Lives of Plants would be offended by the plant’s Latin name, Amorphophallus titanum, or giant misshapen penis.
- The titan arum is sometimes called the “corpse flower,” because when it blooms it smells like rotting flesh. The smell attracts insects such as carrion beetles and flies that pollinate the plant.
Because It Has a Unique Life Cycle
- Titan arums can, in theory, live indefinitely. Pollinating the plants can sometimes kill them as it sucks a great deal of energy from the plant. They are also at risk from pathogens.
- During its life cycle, the titan arum produces one large single leaf at a time. The leaf’s petiole looks like the trunk of a small tree, reaching 10 to 15 feet. After about 15 or 16 months, it goes dormant. After dormancy it will either grow another single leaf or a bloom, with the bud taking months to form. After it breaks the soil surface, it will grow steadily for a few weeks. (Lupin grew 7 inches in one day!)
- When the inflorescence finally opens fully, it remains open for a day or two before collapsing and restarting the life cycle. Blooms are typically from 4 to 8 feet tall.
- In cultivation, pollination requires pollen from a separate titanum flower, because the titan arum’s female flowers are receptive before the male flowers produce pollen. Therefore it requires hand pollination.
- If the titan arum is pollinated, the female flowers turn into bright orange-red fruits. Inside the fruits are seeds that can develop into new corms.
- As the plant blooms, it actually heats up to human body temperature. That heat allows the stench to carry farther, and it also helps attract pollinators.
- It takes at least seven years for the titan arum to bloom for the first time, and sometimes it can take even longer. The one in NC State University’s conservatory greenhouse took 13 years to bloom for the first time.
- Subsequent blooms often occur every three to seven years for the rest of the plant’s life. Lupin’s third bloom will arrive a little early; it’s been just two years since it last bloomed.
The titan arum typically takes 7-10 years of vegetative growth before it blooms for the first time.
Support Our Horticultural Science Students
Through classroom instruction and hands-on learning in our greenhouses, field labs and community gardens, our students prepare themselves to support economic development and environmental sustainability wherever they may go!
Support horticultural students and the mission of the Department of Horticultural Science by making a gift to the Horticultural Science Enrichment Fund.
Funds supporting the Horticultural Science Enrichment Fund are collected and managed by The North Carolina Agricultural Foundation, Inc., a 501(c)(3) organization, tax ID #56-6049304.
Keep Up with the Corpse Flower
You can continue to follow Lupin’s progress on Twitter and Instagram at #Lupin2016 – named for its original bloom year.
NC State Department of Horticultural Science
Visit Brandon Huber’s photo gallery for more images of Lupin’s evolution.