Corpse flower set to bloom at Austin Peay

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — An overpowering smell is coming to Clarksville.

Austin Peay State University’s biology department said it expects that one of the school’s corpse flowers, affectionately dubbed Zeus, will bloom in the next week or two and unleash its powerful perfume in the campus greenhouse where it resides located.

Amorphophallus titanum, also known as corpse flower, is a plant native to Sumatra, Indonesia. Only about 1,000 plants remain in the wild, where they can grow up to 15 feet tall.

Zeus Corpse Flower
Zeus Corpse Flower (Courtesy: Austin Peay State University)

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Zeus came to Austin Peay as a gift from Vanderbilt University. Jonathan Ertelt, a former greenhouse manager at Vanderbilt, donated the facility to the university in 2018.

Unlike most flowers, titan arum is known for the stink it produces when the plant is in bloom. Fortunately, according to Austin Peay biology professor Dr. Carol Baskauf only every eight to ten years and only for 24 to 36 hours.

“We’re used to flowers with sweet scents that attract bees and butterflies,” she said. “The nickname for this plant is ‘corpse flower’ because it smells like rotting, dead flesh. It stinks horribly.”

According to a 2010 scientific study, the corpse flower smells like a combination of cheese, sweat, garlic, decaying flesh, feces, and rotting fish, earning it the nickname. Because of the smell, the flower does not attract common pollinators such as bees or butterflies. Rather, the stench attracts flies and carrion beetles, which are also pollinators.

Due to their rarity, corpse flower blossoms hold special significance for biologists and researchers. While the flowers have become more common in culture, they are still exceedingly rare. As of 2019, only about 500 corpse flower plants lived in university or private collections or botanical gardens.

When Zeus was gifted to Austin Peay, Ertelt and other experts were unsure if he would bloom.

“Even when the bud is almost full size and ready to open, until you see the spatula starting to unfold in a certain way it can be difficult to tell that the entire bud is definitely starting to open” , said Ertelt in 2018.

He estimated at the time that the plant was four or five years from flowering, a prediction that so far has seemed to be blooming well.

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Visitors can see Zeus in action Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the Greenhouse at the Austin Peay Sundquist Science Complex. For those who can’t make it to Clarksville, you can watch the live stream of Zeus’ growth online anytime at the Biology Department’s Titan Arum website. Corpse flower set to bloom at Austin Peay

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