Spurred by Facebook and Twitter truths, several hundred of us queued for Morticia this morning at Boston’s Franklin Park Zoo. We came prepared for the sprawling visual glory of the titan arum, a.k.a. corpse flower, and a bit trepid over a promise of dreadful stench in the temporary greenhouse kept at 80-something humidity and temperature.
Visually, she as the staff said, did not disappoint. As for bad smells, you’d do worse with durian fruit or happening across a decomposing mammal in the woods or maybe that camp outhouse. I eavesdropped to hear people apologizing to each other for their “failure” to get disgusting enough smells after all the anticipation and trepidation.
The zoo has a nice profile of botany of Morticia, here. Plus there’s info on the donor, who presented this one and four others to the facility.
They also realized what a winner they had here. Two of these monsters have bloomed in the same year. Fester, also named for a creepy Addams Family character, recently finished its cycle. As these bloom on their own mysterious schedules only for about two days every five to 15 years, this mini-run was a delight to plant freaks.
The zoo intends to keep all five in a more permanent greenhouse elsewhere on the grounds after Morticia fades. Others in the quintet are in various stages of development. The staff told me they had no idea when the other three might bloom…a year, five, ten?
This time, the zoo really accommodated us curious types. They had pre- and post-zoo hours just for gawking and sniffing, and set up the greenhouse right inside one of the gates. They also did not charge admission for those special times (8 to 9:30 AM and 6 to 8 PM). Zoo members and paying visitors who came at regular hours could also visit the flowers.
In addition to self-appointed alerters, the zoo updated developments and included photos of each change over the past week of pre-blooming. Their FB page had it all and their Twitter handle carried abbreviated versions. Coupled with not charging for a peek, they clearly wanted to plug people into the zoo. Smart marketing, says I.
When I arrived this morning a little before 8, I sank like a butterfly in the rain. The cars in front of me on Blue Hill Avenue were turning maybe a third or more of them into the park. The two semi-circles of parking spaces by the zebra entrance were jammed and backed up. So was the huge lot by the golf course. Cars were parked all along the drive a quarter of a mile down. The auxiliary lot doesn’t open until 9 either. I went ahead and parked in the little lot by the other entrance and across from the golf course, a lot I generally use in winter when I cross-country ski there.
Ah, but good news, as I returned to the zoo, I heard the loud speakers at the golf course. There was some sort of links tournament there. So not the entire world just had to see Morticia. In fact, as I entered, I estimated I was 150 or so people back in line. A similar number came behind me in the next 20 minutes. If this was Disney World, that line would be nothing for any attraction worth the trouble.
Pix notes: Click on an image for a closer view. These are Creative Commons. You’re welcome to use and abuse them. Just give Mike Ball credit the first go.
As it turns out, these flowers blow it all in preparation and blooming. Once they open up, they let off their smells to attract pollinating bugs and such. They they quickly fold up show. Fester was nearby and showed what happens as the exterior parts fold down back onto the corm. It looks very woody and extremely dormant.
They let us in double groups of 10, so 20 sweating camera bugs at a time would be around the two corpse plants, with the next batch of 10 replenishing as folk exited. Certainly, they did not want to spend a lot of time inside. The air was hot and wet. You could pretty well see and photograph and smell from various sides in five or 10 minutes at most. By then, your camera lens was likely to fog and your shirt was wet from your own dew.
Yet, I think we were largely disappointed at not being disgusted by the aroma. That may well have been oversold. Perhaps Fester was more fetid?
On the other hand, Morticia was one big honking flower. She was nearly five feet tall at at least four feet across. The colors of the open blossom were splendidly rich and a bit lewd, looking very vulvar both in folds and hues. The outer green cup of the flower was gloriously fluted too. As fond and proud as I was of my giant parrot tulips, I bow before Morticia.
I can’t say I’ll keep close tabs for the next five to 15 years. I have seen and smelled a corpse flower in bloom. On the other hand, if I’m near one at the right time, I’ll make the effort. Who knows what grand colors…and repulsive smells….that one will produce.