March 16, 2012 in City, News

Rare corpse flower stinks up SCC greenhouse

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Colin Mulvany photo

Karol Startzel, manager of the Spokane Community College Greenery, reacts to the smell of the rare corpse flower (Amorphophallus Konjac,) “We tried to keep it in the store so people could see this unusual plant, but students who came in would start to gag,” said Startzel.
(Full-size photo)

Something reeks at Spokane Community College.

And it emanates from a most unusual place – inside the campus greenhouse.

Last week an unusual plant blossomed. In its native rainforest, the Amorphophallus konjac attracts corpse-eating insects by perfuming the air with a smell reminiscent of dead, rotting animals.

“It’s just nasty. Overwhelming,” said Karol Startzel, who manages SCC’s retail plant shop called The Greenery. “We tried to keep it in the store so people could see this unusual plant, but students who came in would start to gag.”

The blossoming of this pungent plant last week is reminiscent of the putrid fumes of its aptly named relative, the “corpse flower,” the giant Amorphophallus titanum.

Both grow to human height before the leafy sheath called a spathe unfolds to reveal a phallic spadix – a spike of tiny flowers.

At SCC the smaller version of this attention-grabbing blossom — sometimes called “devil’s tongue” — is the property of SCC horticulture instructor Brian Green.

Its potency is a little too much to keep at home, said Startzel, so he brought the plant to campus.

“Appalling, isn’t it?” she said with a laugh.

For much of the year the plant is nothing but a dirt-encrusted bulb. And then in the winter a single slender corm grows.

In Asia – from Japan to Indonesia — the corm, and sometimes the tuber are harvested and eaten. The effect is a natural laxative.

This year’s blossom was an interesting event. The bulb had split in two last year and this winter each grew and blossomed.

“I guess you could say we were lucky,” said Startzel.


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