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9-month update: Harvesting seeds and more

It’s been nine months since Cornell University’s Amorphophallus titanum bloomed, and we’re catching up with “Wee Stinky” — part of the Department of Plant Biology’s Liberty Hyde Bailey Hortorium collection. Find out about how successful pollination was, where Wee Stinky’s seeds are going, and what we’ve learned about its smells.

Update: “Wee Stinky” offspring in the future?

Boston’s Franklin Park Zoo’s Titan Arum, “Morticia,” is currently blooming, but “Wee Stinky” is already well on the path to creating wee “Wee Stinky” plants. Professor Karl J. Niklas, an evolutionary biologist in the Department of Plant Biology, visited the plant just yesterday and reports that the beautiful red fruits now seen on the spadix are full of growing seeds. The seeds will take approximately two more months to mature until it is possible to get them to germinate.  The Department of Plant Biology is beginning to contact possible institutions who are interested in receiving plants or seeds.

Karl niklas inspects Cornell's Titan Arum

Professor Karl J. Niklas, an evolutionary biologist in the Department of Plant Biology is collecting fruits from the Titan Arum to dissect and determine whether there are viable seeds and, if so, to determine their stage of development. Photo: Kathryn Coldren


Karl Niklas and Rob Raguso inspect Cornell's Titan Arum

Professor Rob Raguso, Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, joins Professor Niklas in inspecting "Wee Stinky." Professor Raguso led the graduate student team that collected data on "stench emission." See entry below for the team's results.


‘Wee Stinky’ update

From Gwynne Lim, graduate student, Department of Biology. Pictures from Andy Leed, manager of College of Agriculture and Life Sciences greenhouses for the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station.

For those wondering, here’s an update on Wee Stinky and our attempt at pollination.

Titan arum fruit.

Titan arum fruit.

It worked!

For those who were following Wee Stinky when it was flowering, you may remember the female flowers that had elongate purple styles with a yellow sticky bump at the end.

Now that the gametes from the pollen have successfully fertilized the ovules, the styles have all shriveled (like the tip of the bananas we eat). You can see the bases swelling up as individual fruits get bigger. They are turning lovely apricot color (orange-yellow) that will only intensify and shade towards scarlet red.

Spadix and fruit.

Spadix and fruit.

As you can see, we’ve peeled off the spathe entirely, and taken off the appendix. The male flowers are gone, and so is the gorgeous purple bell-like leaf. Shortly after flowering, those tissues lost most of their water and shriveled up. Given the humid conditions we keep the arum in, they grow moldy very quickly. Andy and the other greenhouse workers cut them off so the rot would not spread to the ripening fruit. It is likely that in the wild where it is also humid and warm, the spathe and appendix will also rot off, leaving just the ripening fruits exposed to the animals that will help disperse it.

Before spathe removal.

Before spathe removal.

Also! For those who may have missed the flower but are close to the Canadian border, I’m happy to announce that here’s your chance! Kathie Hodge from the Mycology Department has informed me that there’s another titan arum blooming at Niagara Parks! Get there tonight for the best bloom. More information.

For those who are unable to catch that, don’t fret. We might still get another bloom. The younger clone of Wee Stinky has just died back for another growing season, and we may be lucky enough to catch another flowering event sooner rather than later.

Going dormant.

Going dormant.

Fully dormant.  Don't worry.  It will come back.

Fully dormant. Don't worry. It will come back.

550,000 people in one greenhouse?

550,000 people in one greenhouse? [Cornell IT news 4/20/2012] – The titan arum webcam set up by CIT at Ken Post Lab greenhouses had more than 550,000 video plays over 4 days. “For those keeping count,” says Andy Page (CIT’s Video Collaboration Services), “that’s somewhere around 33,000 hours’ worth of actual viewing, which is about 3.8 years’ worth of time spent if being watched by just a single person.”

Titan arum at Cornell University — Time lapse, images and more

‘Wee Stinky’ draws crowds to Cornell – The towering titan arum
(Amorphophallus titanum) attracted about 10,000 visits, including more than 3,500 on March 19 alone. Read more in the Cornell Chronicle.

Time lapse:

Shows two days — opening and closing — plus collapse of spadix three days later.

The spadix collapsed on March 22, 2012. Don’t fret. Ph.D. candidate Gwynne Lim told me early that day that it was hollow and could go over anytime. “We went to the greenhouse early this afternoon and the appendix was ripping at the seams just above the male flowers,” says Lim. “It looks so sad.” View the 7-hour collapse in 30 seconds below or on YouTube.

From CornellCast:

Live feeds:

(Updated March 24 6:30 a.m.) I pulled the Ustream feed at the end of the day March 23. The single frame feed has returned to the flower bulb research greenhouse where you can see a show that rivals the arum. (The blooms last longer and smell better, too.) View the tulipcam page.


Robert Barker/University Photography

Robert Barker/University Photography

Will add more links as they roll in. But if you missed the excitement you can see what happened here:

The greenhouse is no longer open to the public. Thanks to all who stood in line for the chance to see this spectacular plant. Can’t wait to do it again!

‘Wee’ have a winner

The votes have been counted and the Cornell Titan Arum now has a name: Wee Stinky — named for Wee Stinky Glen, a small stream running through campus. (The glen is no longer stinky. More about that under question #2 here.) The official results:

  • Big Red 14%
  • Uncle Ezra 33%
  • Wee Stinky 53%

The basics:

The titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum) is native only to Sumatra. It blooms very infrequently (only 140 times in cultivation since 1889) and then only for one or two nights before collapsing. Until it opens, there’s no noticeable odor. After that there’s little doubt where the name “Corpse Flower” comes from.

This Titan arum is part of the Department of Plant Biology’s Liberty Hyde Bailey Conservatory collection, and is temporarily located in the Kenneth Post Lab Greenhouses.

The background:

See posts below for more information about the research being conducted on the plant, frequently asked questions, and more.


Unfortunately, comments are doing strange things to the rest of the page, and we don’t have time at the moment to diagnose the problem. You can leave comments and we’ll read them. (Feel free to ask questions. We’ll try to answer them in posts.) But they won’t appear on the blog. If you’d like to interact, you can comment at Cornell University on Facebook or Google+ posts about the Titan Arum.


We’ll be adding blog posts below as time allows to report results on the research and more. Apologies we weren’t able to do more in real time, but we were overwhelmed by the crowds and interest in this incredible plant.

cornell now

Thermal images

Updated 3/26/2012: Andy Leed, manager of College of Agriculture and Life Sciences greenhouses for the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station, took a series of thermal images during the titan arum flowering. Below was taken Saturday 3/17/2012 at 8 p.m. Andy reported: “It doesn’t look like there’s any significant heating at this point.”

thermal image from Saturday night

By Sunday night, after the spath opened, things had heated up. Here’s the base of the spadix:
thermal image from Sunday night

Top of the spadix Sunday night
thermal image from Sunday night

The base of the spadix had cooled off some by Monday morning.
thermal image from Monday morning

Top of the spadix had cooled off as well.
thermal image from Monday morning

Viewing male flowers Monday night through portal cut into spathe to collect pollen.
thermal image from Monday evening

What made ‘Wee Stinky’ stink – and when

From Gwynne Lim (3/21/2012):

We crunched the data for the first day and Professor Raguso helped us figure out what everything is. You could put it up, let people know what we were doing messing about with those instruments dangling into the plant:

1. Dimethyl disulfide and 2. Dimethyl trisulfide – garlicky, strong cheese, rotting meat.
3. Benzyl alcohol – sweet floral scent
4. Phenol – like Chloraseptic gargles
5 Indole – smells like mothballs

Larger view.

Titan arum pollination basics

Update 12:15 p.m.: Pollination was completed this morning. No more audio on livestream.

Update 10:10 a.m.: The Department of Plant Biology graduate students doing the pollinating are Gwynne Lim and Monica Ramirez Carvalho, along with Ha Nguyen, Department of Neurobiology and Behavior.

Update 9:52 a.m.: Researchers have been hand-pollinating this morning. They may return later and explain the procedure.Tune in to the high-quality livestream to watch with audio. (Leave the volume up and you’ll know when they’re back.)

Update 9:24 a.m.: Tune in to livestream with audio.

Hand pollination of the titan arum is tentatively schedule for 9 a.m. Monday morning. The reason the plant requires this procedure is that the approximately 450 female flowers that ring the base of the column-like structure (spadix) are ready to receive pollen now, but the 500 to 1,000 male flowers above them won’t shed their pollen until later.

The plants cannot self-pollinate. In the wild, insects attracted by the plant’s odor bring pollen from other plants that flowered earlier to fertilize the female flowers.

Plants in cultivation are dependent on people to fertilize the female flowers so the plant can produce seeds. Researchers collect the pollen and store it to be used on other plants. We’ve had offers from researchers at Binghamton University and elsewhere to share their pollen.

Pictures below are from Andy Leed, Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station/College of Agriculture and Life Sciences greenhouse manager, of Laurie Kasperek collecting pollen from the titan arum at Binghamton University. Click on images for larger view.

Below: Female flowers ring the base of the spadix. Note hole in the spathe for access to collect pollen.
arum pollination

Below: Female flowers at base of spadix with male flowers above.
arum pollination

Below: A plastic spoon did the trick collecting pollen to Binghamton University arum titan.
arum pollination

The lights are on until 11 p.m.

Stop by if you’re in the neighborhood, or enjoy the high-quality livestream here. You can tell from the looks on people’s faces, it’s really starting to stink.

titan at night

Help name Cornell’s titan arum

Update: Monday 9:30 a.m.: We have more than 800 votes. Voting will close at 1 p.m.

It’s tradition to name a titan arum, but we don’t have a name for ours yet! Many times they are named after the Titans of Greek mythology for which the plant is named, but Ithaca’s already lousy with Greek mythology, so we’re turning to you to come up with a Cornell-themed name. Time is running out as the plant may begin blooming this evening, so let us know which of the following nom de blooms we should be using:

Big Red (Cornell University’s mascot)
Uncle Ezra (One of Cornell University’s founders)
Wee Stinky (After a small stream on campus)

Find the poll at Cornell on Facebook.

cornell titan arum banner from facebook

keep looking »