Morticia the ‘corpse flower’ is in full pungent bloom, Franklin Park Zoo says
(Globe photo by David L. Ryan)
Kitty litter. Sweat. An aquarium.
That’s how three visitors described the aroma of Morticia, the Franklin Park Zoo’s famous flower, after waiting in line half an hour for a whiff.
Morticia reached full bloom Tuesday night, an event that lasts two days and happens once every 15 years for amorphophallus titanums, commonly called “corpse flowers.”
Zoo officials opened the greenhouse last Thursday for viewing, and since last Friday more than 11,900 visitors have stopped by for a visit, spokeswoman Carol Thistle said. During a free viewing Wednesday morning, hundreds lined up in intense heat to see, and smell, the blooming flower for themselves.
The “corpse flower” takes its name from the plant’s aroma, which many compare to that of rotting flesh.
Many who visited Wednesday, however, had their own descriptions.
“To me, it smells like old kitty litter,” said Somerville’s Ben Dicke, 28. “It’s not too pleasant.”
Zoo officials say roughly 30 corpse flowers have bloomed in captivity. In order to survive, the 200-pound flower needs conditions similar to those in its native western Indonesia, with a temperature of 82 degrees and a humidity level between 80 to 90 percent.
Those greenhouse conditions, on a day when temperatures in Boston topped 90 degrees, made distinguishing the plant’s smell a bit challenging for Josh Evans, 15.
“I’m trying to decide whether that’s the plant or whether that’s a bunch of sweaty people,” he said. “I feel like you should be able to smell the plant, and that must be it.”
Not that the smell, which he called “really, really bad,” detracted from his visit.
“These things only flower once every 15 years,” Evans said. “It’s not a chance you get every day.”
Morticia stands at 4 feet, 9 inches tall. Its large leaves curl away from the brown plant in all directions and are deep purple when viewed from above.
Damaging the flower in any way, whether a scratch or bruise, can prove to be disastrous for the plant, said Harry Liggett, manager of horticulture and grounds at Zoo New England.
There zoo has four other corpse flowers, all donated by Dr. Louis Ricciardiello, an oral surgeon in Laconia, N.H. Ricciardiello, who has been working with the plants for several years, holds the Guinness World Record for the world’s tallest bloom. The winning plant — a “corpse flower”— measured more than 10 feet, 2 inches, in 2010.
Zoo officials expected Morticia’s full bloom to end either Wednesday night or Thursday morning. The zoo will hold free viewing hours Wednesday night between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., but the greenhouse will close to the public starting Thursday.
Jodie Dow, 66, returned Wednesday after two visits Monday and another one Tuesday evening.
“I may never get to see one of these again, so I wanted to see it,” said Dow, of Somerville.
Gabe Harris, 12, said he felt “relieved” Morticia’s odor hadn’t lived up to his expectations.
“It didn’t smell as bad as I thought it would be,” Harris said. “Trash smells worse.”
Along with his mother, Harris brought along his friend Connor Lewis, from Hyde Park.
“I knew he would be glad to come see it, because it was called a ‘corpse flower,’” Harris said.
“I just want to smell a dead corpse,” said Lewis, grinning under a Red Sox cap.
But asked to describe how the flower actually smelled, Lewis paused before offering a surprising answer.
“The Aquarium, sort of?”Alli Knothe can be reached at email@example.com. Adam Sege can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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