By the time we got to the corpse flower at UC Davis’s botanical conservatory yesterday, it had pretty much stenched itself out. The flower blooms, at full strength, for about 18 hours, from what I hear, and it had started doing its thing the day before. While we wandered the campus looking for the conservatory, we encountered people who told us that the flower could be smelled from two or three buildings away; and one professor I spoke with today says his jacket still smells.
But there was still some of its pungency there. We walked all the way across the campus and made our way through the maze of greenhouses, and stood in line for a chance to get up close to the flower and smell it. It stood about three feet tall; not the tallest corpse flower bloom in the world, which was apparently two or three meters in height, but respectable nonetheless for a guy like me who’s used to seeing flowers that are no more than a couple of inches high. I couldn’t smell the flower until I got right up to it, which was sort of disappointing. Still, once I was close, I could detect a very definite smell like rotten meat or fish. And a botany student very helpfully held a small battery powered fan up to my face so that I could get a better whiff of the thing.
A three-foot tall flower that smells like rotten meat! Awesome!
Surrounding the pot with the plant were pots with clones of the same plant, none of them blossoming. We could see the plant in various stages of its life cycle, which was pretty interesting. And there was also a small display of the various insects that are attracted to the bloom and that act as the flower’s pollinators. You know: dung beetles, blowflies, that sort of thing. Critters that are attracted to that sort of smell. The insects were all mounted in a display case, which is fine with me. Much as I appreciate the wonders of the natural world, I am not particularly inclined to get friendly with a dung beetle.
On the way back to the car, Jennifer and I speculated on how such a thing as the corpse flower could have evolved. It probably evolved the way most life forms on earth did, with lots of trial and error on a good bit of luck over millions of years, but Jennifer held out for an extraterrestrial origin. Who knows? She could be right.
Me, I’m happy to place the corpse flower in the same category as the duck-billed platypus: the category of things that prove that God just has a weird sense of humor.