I went out to the University of California, Santa Barbara to see the corpse flower in bloom, a titan arum named “Chanel.” In the wild it’s a rare species which is endemic to western Sumatra, Indonesia, and it’s said to produce the largest inflorescence in the world.
Chanel, which reached a height of 4’10”, was grown from a seed harvested from the corpse flower named “Tiny” which bloomed at UCSB in 2002. When I saw Tiny in bloom at that time there was only a few other people there to take a gander.
That was before the advent of Facebook. This time a special Facebook page was set up to chronicle the bloom cycle of Chanel and it quickly racked up over one thousand “likes” and countless other followers. A webcam provided online viewers still photos taken every five minutes making it easy to know when exactly the plant was going to bloom and several thousand people turned out to take a looksee.
This time when I arrived there were about 70 to 80 people in line, while in 2002 there was no line. After being there forty-five minutes, as I walked out after seeing the famous plant, the line remained just as long. While only anecdotal, it’s interesting to see the apparent power of social media to get out the word about such an event and the crowd it’s able to rally.
The plant’s Latin name may be translated as meaning “giant misshapen penis.” Amorphos, meaning without form or misshapen; phallus meaning penis; titanum meaning giant. Watch a time lapse video of the plant blooming and it’s readily apparent why whomever named it chose that name.
I can’t help but wonder, however, why they chose to emphasize its phallic characteristics in a name rather than anything else about the plant like its putrid stench when in bloom, which is such a notable and essential feature of its existence.
Its rancid smell, which is emitted when the bloom opens and the spadix or large upright shaft heats up, helps attract insects to pollinate it. It lasts only a day or so. The temperature of Chanel near its peak bloom was measured at 95 degrees.
On a different somewhat related note, being intrigued by exotic plants as I am, in southeast Asia there is a fruit called durian. In 2001 I had the (dis)pleasure of sampling a nibble and nearly vomited. The fruit has a thick spiked skin, but its flesh is soft with a custard-like consistency similar to cherimoya.
Durian tastes okay, and I might have been able to get passed its mushy, slimy consistency were it not for the fruit’s gut turning disgusting stench. It reeks like a mixture of rotting excrement and diesel. It smells so bad that some hotels in Indonesia place signs prominently in their lobbies, as I saw, warning guests not to bring durian fruit into the building.
Despite this less than desirable characteristic the fruit is highly regarded among many locals and several men nearby who saw me gag on it were obviously amused. I had no problem giving it to them after I tried it, as they happily accepted it.