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Titan arum to bloom – outside

Carolus stands three feet tall in Minns Garden on July 24

Carolus stands three feet tall in Minns Garden on July 24

‘Carolus’ – one of two flowering-sized Titan arums (Amorphophallus titanum) in the Liberty Hyde Bailey Conservatory’s collection – has broken dormancy and is preparing to bloom this summer.

But instead of unfurling its pungent inflorescence in the confines of the Conservatory, this year’s flowering will take place outside in Minns Garden, between the Plant Science Building and Tower Road.

“As far as we are aware, this is the first time anyone has tried this outside in a temperate region,” says Kevin Nixon, professor in the Plant Biology Section of the School of Integrative Plant Science and the Conservatory’s curator.  Titan arums produce the largest unbranched inflorescences in the plant world.

Paul Cooper, the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station greenhouse grower who maintains the Conservatory’s collection, planted Carolus’s massive 100-pound corm – an underground structure similar to a flower bulb – on June 14 in a pot in Minns Garden.  As of July 25, Carolus stood 38.5 inches and was growing about three inches per day.  (See Carolus’s growth chart to follow the plant’s progress.)

When it last bloomed in 2015, Carolus topped out at 76 inches tall. But predicting exactly when the inflorescence will peak this time around will be especially difficult, as the cooler temperatures outside could slow its progress. Best estimate right now is early to mid-August.

And the plan is not without some risk due to the possibility of severe weather or the plant not acclimating well to outdoor conditions in Ithaca and failing to fully develop. “Whatever happens, we’ll learn something new this year,” says Karl Niklas, Liberty Hyde Bailey professor in the Plant Biology Section of the School of Integrative Plant Science.

Carolus's sibling Wee Stinky approaches full leaf in the Liberty Hyde Bailey Conservatory's Palm House on July 24.

Carolus’s sibling Wee Stinky approaches full leaf in the Liberty Hyde Bailey Conservatory’s Palm House on July 24.

The public is welcome to visit Carolus in Minns Garden any time.  “We’re looking forward to having more visitors to the garden this year,” says Nina Bassuk, professor in the Horticulture Section, who supervises the garden. “We hope they’ll stick around to take in the other beautiful plants we grow there.”  Visitors can also stop in to the Conservatory, home to more than 600 plant species, which is just across the driveway from the garden and open most weekdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Carolus’s sibling ‘Wee Stinky’ – the first Titan arum to flower at Cornell – is in its vegetative phase there where its single leaf towers up into the rafters of the Palm House.

Assuming Carolus does bloom fully, visitors can expect a different experience than previous Titan arum flowerings. Outside, the odor – designed to bring in flies, beetles and other pollinating insects in search of an animal carcass – is likely to be more diffuse and less overwhelming. But instead of being visited by just a few stray insects that managed to find their way into the Conservatory, the outdoor bloom is likely to attract thousands.

The inflorescence is also expected to be smaller than previous indoor flowerings. Carolus has been running about two-thirds to three-quarters of its height during similar growth stages when it bloomed inside, possibly in response to the cooler temperatures.

You can learn more about the fascinating pollination strategy of this plant and view pictures and video of previous Titan arum flowerings at Cornell’s Titan Arum Blog. If you visit weekdays between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m., the nearest public parking is in the Peterson Lot at the corner of Judd Falls and Tower Roads, near Stocking Hall and the Cornell Dairy Bar.

Check back at our Conservatory news page for updates or sign up for email notifications using the subscription in the right column (or bottom of page in mobile).



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