The Chicago Botanic Gardens have many rare and beautiful specimens, from delicate orchids that require careful hand pollination just to bloom to a multitude of beautiful roses and tranquil waters brimming with Lotus and water lilies. They also happen to have quite a few of a rare and malodorous rainforest stinkers known as the amorphophallus titanum, the “corpse flower.”
If you’ve been in the area for the past few years, chances are you know at least a little about this giant. These plants are extremely rare, native only to specific rainforests in places like Java and Sumatra, and because of their great size, take a lot of energy and time to finally flower. 7 to 10 years’ time, to be exact. When they finally sprout to full size- which can be a staggering 6 to 8 feet just for the spadix or flower spike and the leaves of the plant can reach 10 to 15 feet. When the blessed event occurs, an unholy odor emanates from these inflorescences, akin to rotting meat garbage on a hot day (or at least that’s been my experience these last 3 times). It’s something of a floral freak show that happens as rarely as an eclipse, and it draws huge crowds. Corpse flowers, however stinky, are somewhat of a celebrity in the plant world.
The garden’s had plenty of experience with handling that kind of attention lately, with the original corpse flower for the garden, Spike, first drawing crowds back in 2015. Spike sadly ended up lacking the energy to fully bloom, but proved incredibly useful to the garden anyway, with its pollen later being used to pollinate the successfully blooming Alice, who then went on to fruit, allowing scientists more chance to study the plant’s behavior and providing precious seeds for more botanic institutions to receive, cultivate and study. The garden is home to several of these plants, including Alice, the first one to fully bloom, and Sprout, the most recent stench-creator, which bloomed in April of 2016.
So how do you up the ante when you’ve already got a rare bloom on display for 2 years running? How about twins?
Yep. This time it’s double trouble, as the Botanic Garden announced that two of its specimens were growing rapidly and just about ready to bloom. The “Titan Twins” as they’re affectionately being called, have already grown bigger than any past plant, and are raring to put forth their foul odor any day now, including during the already busy holiday weekend. As per usual with events of this nature, if either one of the two, known as Java and Sumatra for their homeland, happen to decide to be a late-bloomer and open up after close, the garden will accommodate, allowing for all who want to see to get in line for a glimpse and a whiff to come see as late as 11 pm on the bloom date.
Also as usual, there’s a ton of ways to observe these crazy plants in action, from following the news on twitter using hashtag #CBGTitanTwins to viewing them live on the garden’s feed. The Chicago Botanic Garden is located in Glencoe, IL and is accessible via CTA and by car. Entrance is free, with parking available at $25 during normal hours, and a discounted rate of $10 for visitors who arrive after 9 pm on the bloom date (though the line can become incredibly long, so if you get an alert, we recommend acting immediately.)
As routine as it seems, this is still a biological rarity, and this time, it’s doubly so. We highly recommend checking out this gnarly duo either before or during its bloom time.