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Flower casts smell

Karol Startzel, manager of The Greenery at Spokane Community College, reacts to the smell of a relative of the “corpse flower.” “We tried to keep it in the store so people could see this unusual plant, but students who came in would start to gag,” she said. (Colin Mulvany)
Karol Startzel, manager of The Greenery at Spokane Community College, reacts to the smell of a relative of the “corpse flower.” “We tried to keep it in the store so people could see this unusual plant, but students who came in would start to gag,” she said. (Colin Mulvany)

‘Corpse’ plant kin stinking up college’s Greenery

Something reeks at Spokane Community College.

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

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

“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 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 it at home, said Startzel, so Green brought the plant to campus.

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

For much of the year the plant is a dormant, dirt-encrusted tuber. And then, in the winter, a single, slender stalk grows.

In Asia – from Japan to Indonesia – the tubers are harvested and eaten. Its effect is a natural laxative.

This year’s blossom was an interesting event. The tuber 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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