Monstrous Blooms: The Amazing Corpse Lily

It is not often that the two strands of my research, botany and the undead, come together and I get very, very excited when they do (it is even less frequent that botany makes front page news).  Enter the Corpse Lily or Amorphophallus Titanium. It takes ten years to reach its flowering season and then only blooms for 24-36 hours during which time it gives off the scent of rotting flesh or dead meat to attract insects to its giant stamens and pistils. Did I mention it also resembles a giant phallus with purple fleshy foliage!!

corpse flower download (1)

I have written on monstrous flowers before on the blog (see Bloody and Monstrous Flowers for example) and they have always interested me. They also  feature in a number of well known narratives from Little Shop of Horrors to The Day of the Triffids but none of these stories compare to seeing one of these rare lilies in full bloom with your own eyes!! I have been lucky enough to see one at Kew in the past but this latest is currently horrifying visitors to New York Botanical Gardens in the U.S. It has been reported in The Guardian Corpse Flower in New York Botanical Gardens Blooms

And there are two videos of visitors to the flower from The Guardian and the BBC

Foul Smelling Corpse flower Finally Blooms

BBC News Video 

By coincidence I have been working on a very exciting collaboration with Ryan Feigenbaum, Andrew Mellon Fellow at the New York Botanical Gardens, which takes the shape of a digital exhibition  entitled Poetic Botany: Art and Science in the Eighteenth Century. It hasn’t yet opened officially but you can get a sneak preview here

Poetic Botany: Art and Science of the Eighteenth Century

And see me and the other contributors, their specialisms and publications here

And now back to some botanising in my local hedgerow…….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Lucy Northenra

Senior Lecturer in Literature, University of Hertfordshire
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5 Responses to Monstrous Blooms: The Amazing Corpse Lily

  1. firekrank says:

    This is fabulously macabre. I love lilies – unfortunately I can’t have them around the house as much now that we have cats. But this gruesome specimen reminds me why I love them!

    • Yes, you are supposed to keep them away from cats. I do have Lilies in my garden though. They would be my choice of wedding flower…though they are also used in funerals, particularly those of children because of their associations with innocence and purity.

  2. Daryl Wor says:

    Yes, even just viewing a photograph of it is compelling enough. I can well imagine the feeling of seeing it in the flesh and three dimensions. Plus that smell! How rough was that? Any resembling odour to, say, a mummy? Of course this intrigued me from the beginning as I had flowers on the brain today, and also the Lily, because I work with Lily Munster. I’m sure this would delight her.

  3. Yes, Lilies are of course associated with death (and also purity usually). It would be fun if the smell resembled a mummy but it smells quite meaty or fishy…really pungent and putrescent. I imagine mummy’s smell of embalming agents and I’m guessing even a mummy would smell better than this thing of terrible beauty. Say hello to Lily. I love flower names by the way…thanks for your comments.

  4. Sol Herda says:

    Both male and female flowers grow in the same inflorescence . The female flowers open first, then a day or two following, the male flowers open. This usually prevents the flower from self-pollinating .

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