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Titan arum ‘Wee Stinky’ preparing to flower

wee stinky 20181104

One of the Liberty Hyde Bailey Conservatory’s two flowering-sized Titan arums is preparing to flower, likely before the end of the year.

‘Wee Stinky’ — the first of Cornell’s Titan arums to flower in 2012 — has broken dormancy. Cornell University Agriculture Experiment Station greenhouse growers expertly moved the pot holding the plant into the bench area at the north end of the Student House where it will flower alongside its sibling ‘Carolus,’ currently in its vegetative stage. (View video of the move below.)

When will ‘Wee Stinky’ open and emit its pungent aroma? It’s hard to say at this point. At just over 6 inches tall, it has a long way to go. The last time ‘Wee Stinky’ flowered in October 2016 its spadix stood 87 inches tall. And we’re unsure how the short days and low light levels will affect the progress of this tropical plant. Our current estimate is sometime in early to mid-December.  As we chart its growth, we’ll get a better idea.

The Conservatory is open weekdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Stop by to view the Titan arums and the 600 other fascinating plants that make up this living collection.

Learn more about Amorphophallus titanum | View time-lapse videos

Take a study break in the Conservatory

Titan arum

Need to recharge your batteries? Get a little plant fix?

Stop by the Liberty Hyde Bailey Conservatory for a study break.

It’s free and open to the public from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays.

With the longer days, many of the plants are pumping out flowers.

Carolus — one of our two flowering-sized Titan arums (pictured towering above the Conservatory’s rafters) — has just about fully leafed out in its vegetative stage just inside the north entrance from the Plant Science building.

And the cacti, succulents and carnivorous plants are always worth checking out.

The Victoria lily in the Palm House continues to pump out blooms.

The Victoria lily in the Palm House continues to pump out blooms.

Passiflora spp. in the Student House.

Passiflora spp. in the Student House.

Bougainvillea spectabilis in the Student House.

Bougainvillea spectabilis in the Student House.

Pachystachys lutea, also known by the common names golden shrimp plant and lollipop plant in the Student House.

Pachystachys lutea, also known by the common names golden shrimp plant and lollipop plant in the Student House.

Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station (CUAES)  greenhouse staff raise Carolus's pot so that it's leaf can open above the rafters.

Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station (CUAES) greenhouse staff raise Carolus’s pot so that it’s leaf can open above the rafters. View time-lapse.

Once again, Victoria lily in flower

Once again, the Victoria lily is flowering, having opened Sunday evening.  Stop by for a look. Read more about this plant.

Victoria lily flowering (again)

After about a 10 day rest, the Victoria lily in the Palm House resumed flowering last night.  Stop by for a look. Read more about this plant.

Victoria lily flowering

victoria lily

Update [2018-04-08]: After a stunning run of blooms, the Victoria lily is no longer flowering, for now anyway. We’ll keep you posted when flower buds reappear.

Last night the Victoria lily (Victoria x ‘Longwood Hybrid’) in the water feature in the Palm House began its dramatic two-day flower display. Currently there are two other flower buds showing. So you’ll likely have more chances to witness this plant’s spectacular bloom in the coming days if you miss this one.

The plant has much in common with the Conservatory’s Titan arums (Amorphophallus titanum), even though the two species are not at all closely related:

  • It’s a large plant. The cultivar we’re growing is a cross between South American natives V. cruziana and V. amazonica. The latter is the larger of the two parents, and under the right conditions it can produce pads nearly 10 feet in diameter. People often photograph small children supported by the pads to demonstrate their strength. (Obey the signage and do not try it here. It’s dangerous and you’ll injure our smaller plant.)
  • The bloom time is short. Victoria lilies open at dusk and the blooms last only about 48 hours or so.
  • The flowers use fragrance and heat to attract pollinators. The first evening, the flower is white and releases a pineapple-like scent and generates heat to attract beetles. It’s a lot more pleasant than the foul odor Titan arums use to attract pollinators in search of rotting flesh.
  • The flower goes to great lengths to assure cross-pollination. During the first evening, the flower’s female parts are ready to receive pollen the beetles might be carrying from another Victoria lily. The flower then closes, trapping the beetles inside.  During the next day, the anthers mature and start releasing pollen that the beetles carry from the flower when it opens in the evening. The flower changes to a purplish red, signaling to beetles that their pollination services are no longer needed.

View time-lapse video of a previous flowering:

Featured plant: Fenestraria rhopalophylla subsp. aurantiaca

Fenestraria rhopalophylla

Fenestraria rhopalophylla subsp. aurantiaca flower (Shujie Li)

From Shujie Li ’17 (aka browneyedsilvia on Instagram):

Once in a while, the unambitious baby’s toes plant (Fenestraria rhopalophylla subsp. aurantiaca, Aizoaceae Family) prepares one to a few gorgeous flowers raised high above the ground.

In its native range, the Namibian desert, where water condition is extreme, this plant buries itself in sand and gravel to minimize water loss and hide from animal herbivory. While the plant is underground, it leaves just the clear “windows” on the leaf tips exposed to allow sunlight into the leaves where photosynthesis happens.

In fact, the plant produces optical fibers of crystalline oxalic acid which can transmit light to the photosynthetic sites. The genus name Fenestraria is derived from fenestra, the Latin word for “window”, and the specific epithet rhopalophylla means “club-leaved” (“rhopalon” means “club” in Greek).

Fenestraria rhopalophylla subsp. aurantiaca ‘windows’ (Craig Cramer)

Look for this plant on the succulent bench on the west side of the student house.

Victoria lily returns to LHBC

Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station greenhouse growers Paul Cooper, Josh Manser and Laurence Walsh teamed up to move a Victoria lily (Victoria x ‘Longwood Hybrid’) started from seed by horticulture graduate student Miles Schwartz-Sax from a heated tank in the Plant Sciences Greenhouse to the water feature in the Liberty Hyde Bailey Conservatory where it has been flowering.  There are no flower buds showing now. But we’ll keep you posted when flowering in imminent.

Social Life of Land class visits the Conservatory

Cooper (left) shows orchids to students in Wolford’s (right) class.

Wendy Wolford, the Robert A. and Ruth E. Polson Professor of Global Development in the Department of Development Sociology and Vice Provost for International Affairs, brought students from her Social Life of Land (DSOC 6620) class for a tour of the Liberty Hyde Bailey Conservatory February 22.

CUAES greenhouse grower Paul Cooper introduced Wolford’s students to the plant collection and explained the features of the greenhouse and how greenhouses at  Cornell have been used to support research, teaching and outreach since the 1880s.

Nature photographers visit LHBC

Cayuga Nature Photographers group member Paul Schmitt composes a shot in the Conservatory February 10.

Cayuga Nature Photographers group member Paul Schmitt composes a shot in the Conservatory February 10.

Members of the Cayuga Nature Photographers group visited the Conservatory February 10 to sharpen their skills and share techniques in the warm confines of the glasshouse. Group members range from beginners to accomplished professionals. They meet monthly and sponsor outings to help improve each other’s skills.

The group’s newsletter editor Paul Schmitt passed along some of his best shots from the day:

Aristolochia gigantea & Bougainvillea spectabilis

Aristolochia gigantea & Bougainvillea spectabilis

Welwitschia mirabilis

Welwitschia mirabilis

Clerodendrum thomsoniae

Clerodendrum thomsoniae

From Nancy Ridenour:

From Brian Chabot:

From Mark Malkin:

Darwin’s orchid (Angraecum sesquipedale) flowering now

Horticulture research technician Maria Gannett takes in the splendor of the Darwin Orchid. Photos: Matt Hayes

Horticulture research technician Maria Gannett takes in the splendor of the Darwin Orchid.

Several specimens of Angraecum sesquipedale, also known as Darwin’s orchid, Christmas orchid, and Star of Bethlehem orchid, are currently blooming or poised to bloom in the Conservatory. They are expected to continue to pump out flowers possibly until the end of the month.

Stop by for a visit. (We’re open to the public 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. most weekdays.) You can also see our Titan arums in their vegetative stage and the hundreds of other interesting plants in the warm confines of the Conservatory.

In addition to producing large, star-like, waxy white flowers, this plant comes with a great back story (reposted from the Cornell Chronicle 2012-12-05):

A star orchid is blooming on campus this week, but its story began 150 years earlier when Charles Darwin first observed the flower’s foot-long nectary and famously wondered: “Good Heavens, what insect can suck it?”

Darwin’s fascination with Angraecum sesquipedale — and with answering this question — led him to predict a species of moth with a proboscis capable of extending 10 to 11 inches, able to reach the flower’s nectar reserves. To explain the phenomenon, Darwin suggested an arms race of sorts resulting in flowers with perpetually lengthening floral tubes, and moths with perpetually lengthening tongues — a prediction that represents one of his major contributions to evolutionary biology.

Letters between Darwin and orchid grower James Bateman reveal Darwin was immediately captivated when a box of the orchids arrived in 1862. Paul Cooper, the greenhouse grower who cares for Cornell’s specimen, also claims love at first sight.

“I first noticed the orchid while I was watering,” says Cooper. “When I learned the story behind it, I got a little obsessed.”

Cornell’s orchid has been in its collection for more than a decade and is housed at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ Liberty Hyde Bailey Conservatory, managed by the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station (CUAES). Generally slow in reaching maturity, this orchid has been flowering for the past few years and boasts about two dozen blooms, Cooper says.

An epiphytic plant endemic to the coastal forests of Madagascar, A. sesquipedale blooms from June to September in its native habitat, but usually peaks between December and January in North America and Europe. Also known as “Darwin’s orchid,” the flower’s timing and its star-like appearance have led people to call it the “Christmas orchid” or “Star of Bethlehem orchid.”

As with many night-blooming orchids, the flowers of A. sesquipedale are white, and its scent is strongest at night when its pollinators are on the move. And pollination is performed almost exclusively by the very insect Darwin first imagined: A hawkmoth with a proboscis long enough to reach the orchid’s nectar. The species, named Xanthopan morganii praedicta (or “predicted moth”), was discovered in 1903, but not witnessed feeding on the orchid until 1992.

Professor of Neurobiology and Behavior Robert A. Raguso says hawkmoths’ long tongues grant them entry to most flowers. “In Madagascar, they drink from tiny lantana flowers as well as the huge hibiscus-like blossoms in the canopies of baobab trees,” he said. “The orchids may indeed have arrived late on that scene.”

Raguso’s lab uses the orchid’s floral scents to study smaller-tongued relatives of the hawkmoth, and how they use fragrance to find and pollinate evening primroses and nocturnal tobaccos. A recent study from his lab showed for the first time that some pollinators may prefer flowers with slightly higher humidity levels, as remote indicators of the presence of nectar. “From the moth’s perspective, the white, perfumed flowers are billboards promising nectar at the bottom of that long spur,” Raguso says.

“The fact that the orchid’s mysteries are still unfolding is a big part of what makes this flower so special,” Cooper adds. “Plus, it is truly glorious for just one short week of the winter each year. I encourage everyone to come see it.”

Angraecum sesquipedale, also known as Darwin's orchid, Christmas orchid, and Star of Bethlehem orchid

Angraecum sesquipedale, also known as Darwin’s orchid, Christmas orchid, and Star of Bethlehem orchid

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