Fans flock to WSU’s blooming corpse flower

Clark County

The flower was planted in 2002

VANCOUVER, Wash. (KOIN) — Titan VanCoug is blooming!

The rare “corpse flower” at Washington State University Vancouver — nicknamed Titan VanCoug — started blooming for the first time Monday night. But if you want to see it, go now. The bloom doesn’t last long.

The 17-year-old titan arum was planted at WSU in 2002 by associate professor Steve Sylvester. Sylvester raised the plant in a pot on his desk until it grew too large and had to be moved to a stairwell in one of the buildings on campus.

The corpse flower is one of the largest and rarest flowering plants in the world with a single bloom emerging after about a decade of growth. After its initial flowering, the plant only graces the world with a bloom once every 4 years or so for the remainder of its 40-year lifespan.

Hour-long wait in line

The blooming of the rare corpse flower brought thousands of people to the campus of Washington State University Vancouver for an hour-long wait in line.

Maddie Collura of Vancouver was one of the many in line.

“I wasn’t expecting so many people who are nerds like me to come out and see a blooming flower but it’s fun,” Collura told KOIN 6 News. “I think it’s really cool. I’m a science teacher so just being able to see this and take pictures for my students is kind of why I am here, to see it and smell it.”

That’s one of the characteristics of the corpse flower — its smell.

“They’re saying rotting animals. They’re saying sewage, so I guess we’ll see,” she said.

“The smell brings insects to pollinate,” Professor Sylvester said. “Both male and female flowers are inside. The female flowers are receptive right now, but the males haven’t made the pollen.”

Michelle Stickley came to see it from Camas and caught a whiff of the flower. “It just smelled. Bad, dead fish, dead fish. It smells like dead fish, or a garbagy dead fish, maybe, that’s been in the garbage for a while.”

But then she added, “I’m excited to go see it.”

Brad and Vickie Bleything of Washougal said they’d been watching the flower online and laughed when they said they “probably should have come earlier this morning.”

Vancouver resident David Barber said “We just missed seeing the blooming of one in Copenhagen about 4 years ago by about a day-and-a-half.”

Mimi Gentry now lives in Vancouver, but she’s originally from Thailand. She said she heard about the corpse flower blooms in Thailand but never had the chance to see one until now.

“I saw it on the TV, right? It was blooming last night and then I’m, like, yeah,” Gentry said.

Corpse flower native to Sumatran rainforests

Native to the limestone hills of the Sumatran rainforests, the corpse flower is named for another peculiar trait: its odor, which has been compared to the smell of a rotting animal.

Sylvester told KOIN 6 News he got the plant about 18 years ago from a professor at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. It took him a while to figure out how the plant works — he thought it died twice — but the plant kept growing even though there were some stops and starts along the way.

At one point he had a 10 foot plant that seemed to be on track, but it didn’t make it. Another time he had a 14 foot plant that was in the hallway at the university. Its leaves were drooping and someone overwatered it.

But after that leaf died, he said, more leaves came up. But everytime there was a new leaf the clock on its bloom was re-set.

“It delayed the time clock,” Sylvester said. “Ten years became 18 years.”

  • APTOPIX Corpse Flower_332388
  • Corpse Flower_332387

This corpse flower began growing June 1, he said, and did it with very little photosynthesis.

“All the energy to make this came from the tuber,” Sylvester said, meaning the pollinated seed.

Titan VanCoug has also had as many as 4 leaves at once — quite the accomplishment, considering corpse plants only put up one leaf at a time.

But more blooms are coming, he said.

“I have 4 plants in the pot and I’m predicting another bloom in a few months,” he said Tuesday morning. “Within 2 years I’m predicting a total of 4 blooms.”

Associate Professor Steve Sylvester talks about the corpse flower nicknamed Titan VanCoug that bloomed for the first time in 18 years at Washington State University Vancouver, July 16, 2019 (KOIN)

Once it pollinates he said the flower will fall off and “I will be left with a stump,” he said.

The lower half will be green speckles and the “top half will be red flowers that will turn into fruit that will take 4 to 6 months. After that period, the fruit will be ripe.”

He plans to take that fruit and give the seeds away.

“We’ll see how far they go.”

Sylvester told KOIN 6 News he was just happy it bloomed.

“I didn’t do things right. It’s never been in a greenhouse. They like 80 degrees Fahrenheit and 80% humidity. It’s never seen 80% humidity and the only time it saw 80 degrees was 4 afternoons in the last 2 weeks,” Sylvester said.

“I’m just really happy that the plant did it, you know. It’s doing what I wanted it to do, and that was bring people to campus.”

The plant will be on public display until it finishes blooming. It’s expected to last 24-48 hours.

Visitors are welcome between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

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