Reporting from New York —
It took a few years, but the rare titan arum -- a.k.a. corpse plant -- housed at Cornell University opened into full bloom overnight, sending its famously vile odor wafting through a greenhouse and marking one of the few times that people outside Sumatra have witnessed such an event.
Thanks to modern technology, people who could not see the plant in person in the Cornell greenhouse, in Ithaca, N.Y., could view the plant's opening on a live webcam. Early Monday, a steady stream of camera-toting visitors slowly circled the giant plant, which resembles an upside-down maroon-colored flared skirt, with a long, green column -- known as the spadix -- protruding from the center toward the sky.
Cornell acquired the plant about 10 years ago, and this marks the first time it has bloomed. The experts who keep watch on the plant realized last week that it was preparing to bloom, when the unopened inflorescence began a growth spurt. On March 4, it measured 38 inches; by Monday, it was a towering 66.5 inches high.
The corpse plant -- so-called because of the rancid-smelling odor it emits when in full bloom -- needs pollen from other corpse plants to thrive. "That's why they are so rare," said Karl Niklas, the Liberty Hyde Bailey professor of plant biology at Cornell. "If you think about these plants flowering, maybe every seven to 10 years, and you need another plant nearby to transport pollen, it explains why there are so few seeds."