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Putrid Is the Aroma They've Been Waiting For

You can smell the excitement as the Fullerton Arboretum anticipates the brief blossoming of the 'corpse flower.' The big moment will be soon.

May 21, 2003|Zeke Minaya | Times Staff Writer

It isn't often that the phrase "it's starting to smell" is said with anticipation.

But the first whiff of something similar to rotting flesh wafting through the Fullerton Arboretum on Tuesday signaled an event greeted with great expectation: the rare blossoming of the corpse flower.

"When you see it, it's unbelievable," arboretum director Greg Dyment said of the plant that stands 58 inches tall and 12 inches in diameter.

"It's spectacular; it is otherworldly. If you didn't know anything about its history, you would question that it grew on this planet."

Arboretum officials expect the plant -- formally known as Amorphophallus titanum -- to be in full bloom today.

The corpse flower blossoms about every three to five years, spending the time in between storing the large amount of photosynthetic energy necessary to produce a stunning magenta-colored blossom, Dyment said. The cycle is lengthy because of the plant's size.

The flower, native to the rain forest of Sumatra, Indonesia, emits its pungent scent to attract bugs and beetles that will carry away its pollen. The last time one of the arboretum's two corpse flowers blossomed -- in 2001 -- the smell was noticeable a few hundred feet away, said Chris Barnhill, the arboretum curator.

The smell does dampen the experience a bit, Dyment said. "It's not my favorite smell," he said.

"What can I say? I don't like the smell of rotting flesh."

There are two dozen mature corpse flowers across the United States, Dyment said; four of them are believed to be in California.

The one blooming at the Fullerton Arboretum is named after the Cal State Fullerton school mascot, Tiffy. Its partner is called Taffy. They were donated to the school, which houses the arboretum, in 1992.

Tiffy will remain unfurled for about a day, during which time arboretum officials will try to pollinate it and produce Toffy, Barnhill said.

Arboretum officials expect several thousand people to line up to see the corpse flower. To accommodate them, the arboretum will be open extended hours today: 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Admission is free. The arboretum is at 1900 Associated Road, at Yorba Linda Boulevard, Fullerton.

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