The Big Stink: 'Corpse flower' Romero blooms at Phipps

Much fuss is made over the 'corpse flower,' which only blooms every 10 years and smells dreadful

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Sauerkraut. Roadkill. Dirty diapers. Garbage. Fermenting vegetables. A nurse's busy night. Rotting meat.

These were just some comparisons the hundreds of visitors made of the smell of the "corpse flower," which started blooming Tuesday night at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Garden.

"It smells like a deer -- that was eating cabbage in a cabbage patch -- died, and then 10 days later, there it was," said Vincent Salvino, 30, of the Mexican War Streets.

Thousands visit Phipps to see 'Romero' the corpse flower

Ben Dunigan and his team at Phipps have worked for three years to get a corpse flower to bloom. What does it smell like? Everyone has a different opinion. One thing for sure, it's not roses. (Video by Doug Oster; 8/21/2013)

Corpse Flower bloom timelapse

'Romero' the corpse flower only blooms perhaps once in 10 years and appeared ready to spread its spathe. A few hours later, it started to bloom. Here is a time-lapse of its journey. (Courtesy of Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens)

Meanwhile, Ben Dunigan was beginning to feel a lot like Britain's Prince William.

"I'm the person [to whom] every day people say, 'Is it tonight? When is it going to be?' I'm just like the father in the waiting room," the curator of horticulture for Phipps said, less than an hour before the blessed event began.

In this case, the proverbial bundle of joy is Amorphophallus titanum, also known as the titan arum.

Currently ensconced in Phipps' Palm Court, the giant plant that only blooms perhaps once in 10 years appeared ready to spread its spathe Tuesday afternoon.

A few hours later, it started to bloom.

Though Mr. Dunigan went home around 4 p.m., he received picture messages of the plant around 5 and confirmed it was blooming, he said.

When it fully opens, this species -- which is native to Indonesia and is known as the "corpse flower" because of the putrid "rotting elephant" odor it emits to attract pollinators such as flies and beetles -- is expected to draw an even bigger crowd.

"We have thought this through. We've talked to some other gardens that have been through the same occurrence and they've had huge crowds," said Liz Fetchin, director of marketing and communications for the conservatory in Oakland.

Phipps is going all out for the occasion. It will be showing George Romero's classic zombie film, "Night of the Living Dead," at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. today, with producer Russ Streiner introducing the earlier showing and conducting a Q&A afterward.

Viewings are free with Phipps admission, but space is limited. Visitors also will receive a special "Smell-O-Vision" zombie-head mini-poster by Terry Callen of @Screaming Brain Studio.

When the corpse flower started blooming, Phipps officials decided Tuesday evening to remain open until 2 a.m. The conservatory will remain open until 2 a.m. Thursday as well.

By 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, about 600 people had waited in a line snaking through the court to catch their glimpse and sniff of the plant.

Mr. Dunigan said he would like to see about 20,000 people visit.

"If you're the slightest interested in plants, this is it. This is the Super Bowl," he said.

It blooms for only about 48 hours. This process peaks in the night-time hours, and the flower heats up to nearly 100 degrees.

While waiting in line to see -- and smell -- the 5-foot-tall plant, visitors can sip on a variety of cocktails, including two created for the occasion. There is a dirty martini with a blue cheese-stuffed olive, as well as the "Romerotini," a mix of vodka, vermouth, cherry and grapefruit juices.

Phipps has had the corpse flower since 2010. This will be the first blooming for "Romero," as it is affectionately known, although Mr. Dunigan said the gardens feature a smaller relative.

"Same genus, different species," he said, noting that one time a visitor happened upon it while walking through Phipps' tropical forest exhibit.

"She said 'Sir, I am certain there is a dead animal in this area.' When I explained it was the flower, she went from totally appalled to totally intrigued, and stuck her nose right up to it."

Phipps Conservatory has been keeping patrons informed via Facebook, Twitter and email blasts. The fast-growing plant slowed noticeably over the past week -- a sign that it was ready to bloom.

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Maria Sciullo:, 412-262-1478 or @MariaSciulloPG. Lexi Belculfine:, 412-263-1878 or @LexiBelc. First Published August 21, 2013 12:00 AM


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