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An Ode to a Titan Arum Part II: Wee Stinky

wee stinky

Photo: Kirsten Kurtz

Marla Coppolino, a frequent visitor to the Conservatory, has penned a follow-up to her An Ode to a Titan Arum: Wee Stinky:

You did it! You delivered! You didn’t let us down
Your blossom unfurled right on time, like a dazzling gown

Your volatiles overwhelmed our olfactory sense
And seeped into our clothing fibers like a pungent incense

Revolting stink, like rotting flesh in stages of decay
Or a garbage truck overturned on a torrid day

Putrid, foul, fetor, funk, your stinky stench did reek
So strong that someone phoned 911 to report a gas leak

However stinky, we were awed by your spadix standing tall
Your inner spathe’s burgundy elegance overcame us all

We love you, Wee Stinky, even after your great spadix’s last sigh
Should anyone dislike you, we’ll give them the ol’ stink eye!

©2018 Marla Coppolino

Wee Stinky’s spadix goes down

Wee Stinky’s spadix tipped over around 3 p.m. December 19. This is normal and expected and marks the unofficial end of the plant’s fourth bloom.    The conservatory is open regular hours (10 a.m. to 3 p.m.) Thursday and Friday. But will be closed for winter break until January 2.

spadix collapse

Wee Stinky timelapse video

If you missed the bloom — or just want to relive it — watch the short timelapse video …

Conservatory open Saturday 10 to 2:30

If you missed out on the full-on olfactory assault Wee Stinky put on last night, you can still stop by for a whiff of the leftovers.  Wee Stinky still looks pretty good to, considering it’s still the morning after.

The Conservatory is closed Sunday, but will resume normal hours Monday: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays.

View livestream.

Wee Stinky early on December 15.

Wee Stinky early on December 15.

Wee Stinky opening tonight

About 1 p.m. this afternoon, Wee Stinky’s spathe started pulling back from the spadix, the earliest onset for any of our flowerings here at Cornell.

So tonight is the night if you want to get a whiff up close, and we’re extending our hours.

The Conservatory will be open:

  • Friday until 9 p.m.
  • Saturday 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m

View livestream.

Wee Stinky getting close

Wee Stinky at 85 inches December 13

Wee Stinky at 85 inches December 13

Wee Stinky stood 87 inches this morning, equaling its height last time it bloomed in 2016.

When exactly will Wee Stinky bloom? We’re never exactly sure until late in the day when its spathe finally unfurls.  But it appears that the Titan arum will win the race to release its stench before the Cornell campus closes for the holidays.

Horticulture graduate student Zachary Stansell helpfully charted Wee Stinky’s growth since it broke dormancy through Wednesday (below).  It shows graphically what our growth chart has been telling us lately.  The plant’s exponential growth has slowed, indicating the bloom should come in the next few days.

wee stinky growth graph

You can keep tabs on progress via the livestream, or sign up for email updates and we’ll let you know when bloom is imminent and what the extended hours to visit will be.

Titan arum to bloom in campus conservatory

One of Cornell’s two flowering-sized Titan arums — dubbed Wee Stinky for its putrid smell — is set to bloom for the fourth time. Rosemary Glos ’20 and greenhouse grower Paul Cooper measure Wee Stinky Dec. 7 at the Liberty Hyde Bailey Conservatory. Photo by Craig Cramer.

One of Cornell’s two flowering-sized Titan arums — dubbed Wee Stinky for its putrid smell — is set to bloom for the fourth time. Rosemary Glos ’20 and greenhouse grower Paul Cooper measure Wee Stinky Dec. 7 at the Liberty Hyde Bailey Conservatory. Photo by Craig Cramer.

CALS News [2018-12-11]:

The race is on.

One of Cornell’s two flowering-sized Titan arums — dubbed Wee Stinky for its putrid smell — is set to bloom for the fourth time.

The big question is, will the plant give its macabre display of smells, heat and color before students pack up and head home for the holidays and campus closes for the winter break?

“Probably,” says Paul Cooper, the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station greenhouse grower who cares for the plant in the Liberty Hyde Bailey Conservatory on Tower Road, adjacent to the Plant Science Building. “But it’s next to impossible to predict exactly when until a few days before flowering.”

Titan arums (Amorphophallus titanum) produce the largest unbranched inflorescence (flowering structure) in the plant world. And they are famous for producing a foul stench resembling a rotting animal carcass when they bloom to attract pollinating flies and beetles, a gruesome display that earns these plants the moniker “corpse flowers.”

Predicting precisely when the plant will bloom is complicated by cooler greenhouse temperatures and lower light intensities than what the tropical plant is adapted to in its native Sumatra, where it is threatened by habitat loss.

“Low temperatures and light intensities will likely slow the growth of the inflorescence,” says Karl Niklas, professor of plant biology. “It’s like a chemical reaction that depends on having the right temperatures and light conditions to proceed optimally.”

As of Dec. 11, Wee Stinky stood 81 inches tall and was growing 2 to 3 inches daily. The plant reached 87 inches when it last bloomed in 2016. There is reason to suspect that it may grow taller this year: The underground corm — a structure similar to a flower bulb — that stores the plants’ energy increased in size considerably during the plant’s vegetative stage between flowerings. Carolus, the other Titan arum and Wee Stinky’s sibling, is currently in a vegetable stage, with its single leaf topping the rafters in the Conservatory.

Cooper’s skill in coaxing these plants to flower every two years or so under the controlled conditions in the Conservatory presents the opportunity to study the flowering behavior of this remarkable plant, said Niklas.

Titan arums typically start opening late in the day so that they are fully open and aromatic at night. During flowering, the plants reach internal temperatures of more than 100 degrees to create a chimney-like effect that wafts the pollinator-attracting stench far and wide. The shorter winter days may cause the blossom to start opening earlier in the afternoon and could cause the plant to burn itself out, shortening the already brief event that usually lasts just two days, said Niklas.

The Conservatory is open to the public weekdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. If the flowering happens before campus closes Dec. 21, hours will be extended into the evening to accommodate visitors. Otherwise, a stinkless flowering can be seen on a livestream available at the Conservatory’s website. You can also sign up for email updates to be notified when flowering commences.

The Titan arum is not the only chance to see a rare flower in bloom. Angraecum sesquipedale (also known as Darwin’s orchid and Star of Bethlehem orchid) is also in flower at the Conservatory. When Charles Darwin first observed the flower in 1862, he predicted there must be a species of moth with a proboscis capable of extending deep into the flower’s foot-long spur petal to reach the nectar reserves at its tip. That moth, named Xanthopan morganii praedicta (or “predicted moth”), was discovered in 1903.

The orchid and arums are just two of about 600 species from 144 different plant families and 347 genera on display in the Conservatory, which is the living collection of the Liberty Hyde Bailey Hortorium in the Plant Biology Section of the School of Integrative Plant Science. The Conservatory is maintained by the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station.

‘Wee Stinky’ webcam

Visit our livestream page to view ‘Wee Stinky’ in real time on YouTube.

The feed isn’t 100-percent stable.  So if you get an error message, please return to that page later to view the stream after we get it running again because the YouTube address may change.

An Ode to a Titan Arum: Wee Stinky

Rosemary Glos (Plant Sciences ’20) and greenhouse grower Paul Cooper measure ‘Wee Stinky’ December 7.

Rosemary Glos (Plant Sciences ’20) and greenhouse grower Paul Cooper measure ‘Wee Stinky’ December 7.

From Marla Coppolino, a frequent visitor to the Conservatory:

Wee Stinky, dear Wee Stinky,
Thy spathe is yet too dinky
We desire for you to bloom
Please tell us, can’t it be soon?

Phenomenal has been your recent growth
Might you be able to pledge your troth
That your great blossom will yawn
Prior to holiday break’s coming dawn?

Don’t you realize that Cornell shuts down
With Conservatory locked, we will frown
Our faces will be pressed to the glass
Just for a glimpse of your blossoming badass

O, how we long to see you up close!
And inhale the stink of your perfume so gross!
You have only until December twenty-first
Then we’re locked out, that would be the worst!

And in the New Year, when we’re all back,
Someone is sure to make a wisecrack
For with your flower finished, you may be placid
But all we’ll get to see is your spadix gone flaccid.

©2018 Marla Coppolino

Beneficial mites help ‘Wee Stinky’ fight pests

Packet of predatory mites (Neoseiulus cucumeris) hangs from Wee Stinky’s spathe

Staff in the Liberty Hyde Bailey Conservatory rely heavily on biocontrol as part of an integrated pest management program that drastically reduces the need to spray for pests.

In the case of ‘Wee Stinky’, they’ve enlisted the help of a predatory mite (Neoseiulus cucumeris) to help reduce populations of western flower thrips (Frankliniella occidentalis).

These tiny thrips (adults are about 1 to 1.5 mm long) are common greenhouse pests and are particularly fond of feeding on the Titan arum’s spadix.

The predatory mites (about  0.5 to 1 mm long) are particularly fond of feeding on immature thrips.  They are shipped to greenhouse growers in the small packets you see hanging from the Titan arum.

As you tour the Conservatory, you’ll see packages of other beneficial organisms that feed on mealybugs, whiteflies, spider mites and other plant pests.

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