Barnard College’s corpse flower just bloomed for the first time ever

MENTAL FLOSS – If someone’s talking about a corpse flower, or Amorphophallus titanum, there’s a good chance they’ll end up mentioning one or all of these characteristics: It smells atrocious, and it might only bloom about once a decade.

Earlier this week, Barnard College’s corpse flower unfurled for the first time ever, and you can watch its slow progress in real time on the YouTube livestream. This particular specimen was given to Barnard’s Arthur Ross Greenhouse by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden Horticulture Department in 2013, and it’s named ‘Berani’, after the Indonesian word for brave — a nod to the species’ native region of Sumatra, Indonesia.

In previous years, the greenhouse staff has watched the potato-like tuber sprout into a tall, leafy structure — each taller than the last, with the most recent one measuring about 12 feet — hoping that next time, they’d get to watch it blossom into a flower instead.

When Berani began to shoot up again this spring, they noticed it looked different, and by the time it was nearly three feet tall, they could confirm that the swollen spathe would soon unsheath a beautiful, putrid flower.

Since the coronavirus pandemic prevented them from inviting the public to see Berani blossom in person, greenhouse administrator Nick Gershberg and his colleagues have documented the process on the greenhouse’s Instagram account (as well as the livestream), and they’re planning to release a time-lapse video soon.

Gershberg told Mental Floss that the flower reached its peak earlier this week, at which point it measured 72 inches tall and 44 inches wide.

Since a corpse flower only blooms for about 48 hours, Berani will soon begin to wither, and it’ll eventually fall over and separate from its base. After the roots die, the only thing left will be what Gershberg describes as “a 40-pound, beach ball-sized potato”.

The team will remove it from the pot, clean it, inspect it for any infections, replant it, and wait for the now-dormant tuber to send up a new leaf, which will likely happen sometime in the next three to six months.

Barnard College corpse flower. PHOTO: NICHOLAS GERSHBERG/BARNARD COLLEGE