Stinky Phil corpse flower makes a big stink

Visiting mother holds her daughter up for a whiff of the corpse flower at the CALS greenhouse on Saturday, August 29, 2015

Visiting mother holds her daughter up for a whiff of the corpse flower at the CALS greenhouse on Saturday, August 29, 2015.

All eyes and noses were on the exotic corpse flower — a prehistoric-looking plant that bloomed this past weekend, releasing a primordial stench akin to rotting flesh.

Lucky visitors to the complex on Virginia Tech’s campus had the chance to get a whiff and an eyeful of the rare plant when it bloomed last Friday for the first time in five years.

The titan arum or “corpse flower”, affectionately called “Phil,” is located adjacent to the Hahn Horticulture Garden. The garden and greenhouse are run by the Department of Horticulture.

Thousands of visitors stood in line at the greenhouse over the weekend and also engaged with us on social media using the hashtag #stinkyphil, uploading photos of the plant on Twitter, and posting them to the college Facebook page. We also caught a time lapse video of Phil in bloom!

This flower is no shrinking violet. A mature bloom can reach up to 7-12 feet in height, and a diameter of 3-4 feet. The blooming period only lasts about 48 hours and the overwhelming stench is said to occur only in the first eight hours of blooming when the flower expends a lot of energy to attract pollinators.

The plant is native to Sumatra, Indonesia and was first discovered there in 1878 by Odoardo Beccari. The first organization to cultivate the corpse flower, whose scientific name is Amorphophallus titanium, was the Royal Botanic Gardens, in Kew, England in 1887. The plant first bloomed in the United States in 1937 at the New York Botanical Garden.

Virginia Tech’s Department of Horticulture owes its odorous legacy to James Symon, a medical doctor who collected the seeds of the plants in Sumatra and shared them with John Ford, a frequent visitor to Virginia Tech and a member of the Aroid Society, an organization dedicated to the study of plants that belong to the Philodendron or Arum family.

“Phil” is an offshoot, or corm, of the original bulb that was donated by Ford.

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