Chicago Botanic Garden

Why the Chicago Botanic Garden's ‘Corpse Flower' Didn't Bloom

"Spike," the Chicago Botanic Garden's prized "corpse flower," left some fans disappointed Sunday when it failed to bloom and emit its trademark horrendous odor.

But after 12 years of nurturing and waiting for the big moment, why didn't the flower bloom?

The issue stems from Spike's lack of energy when the time came for it to bloom. According to Karen Zaworski of the Chicago Botanic Garden, "corpse flowers," which are the largest flowering structures in the world and native to Sumatra, are powered from energy from the sun. The energy is then stored inside a "corm" the size of a beach ball, described as a "tuber-like underground structure" on the plant.

A significant amount of energy is required for "corpse flowers" to actually produce the rare flower, but Spike ran out of its energy before the bloom cycle finished, according to Zaworski. Although the bloom cycle stopped, Zaworski said Spike was not "dying." Instead, the plant had simply stopped maturing.

"Corpse flowers" also require very humid conditions to properly grow, so garden staff tried to keep humidity levels at 75 to 90 percent saturation at all times. The temperature in Spike's home was kept at 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

When it became clear that Spike would not flower, scientists at the botanic garden tried to harvest the pollen, if possible. The scientists did not find any pollen, so they decided to perform the delicate procedure of removing the spathe by cutting around the base of the flower just above where it attaches to the stalk of the plant. Any pollen found inside would be collected.

Scientists performed the procedure Sunday morning in front of crowds of admirers waiting to catch a glimpse of the plant's insides and catch a whiff of the putrid smell that characterizes the plant.

Unfortunately, Spike did not emit the odor, described by Tim Pollack, the outdoor floriculturist for the garden, as a "decaying, rancid, rotten stench." Pollack said people sniffing the plant in bloom usually smell a mixture of limburger cheese, rotting fish, sweaty socks, a sweet floral scent and mothballs.

If Spike had bloomed, it would have been the first "corpse flower" in the Chicago area to bloom.

The Chicago Botanic Garden has eight other "corpse flowers," which could bloom in years to come.

Meanwhile, Spike's spathe will be on display through Tuesday at noon. The Chicago Botanic Garden will be open Sunday until 9 p.m. and from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday and Tuesday.

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