Popular Flower Types
There are thousands of different flowers, each with its own unique meaning and purpose. The rose, for example, symbolizes adoration and loyalty.
Sunflowers are bright and bold, a symbol of rebirth and prosperity. Calla lilies are an elegant addition to any garden and represent faith and purity. Tulips may not be as popular as they once were, but they still symbolize love and affection.
The Missouri Botanical Garden has drawn crowds wanting to revel in the smell of the aptly named corpse flower since it first bloomed there in 2012. The amorphophallus titanum’s offensive odor has been likened to rotting garbage, dirty diapers and, yes … a dead body.
Horticulturist Emily Colletti has cared for the garden’s aroid plant collection — which includes the corpse flower as well as the peace lily — for 21 years. Before MoBot got its first handful of tubers, Colletti didn’t know much about the plant. Now she is one of the nation’s most knowledgeable horticulturalists attending to this rare and endangered species.
“[When] you walk through the greenhouse and you see the different inflorecense … they are all so different for each of the genera and all the same all at once, just like people,” Colletti told St. Louis on the Air. “It’s always people’s favorite to see and to find out about.”
The corpse flower can grow to 12 feet tall and easily weighs over 100 pounds once it has reached maturity. A complete growth cycle from seed to flower is between seven and 10 years for the smelly plant. In Colletti’s experience caring for corpse flowers at MoBot, it takes about two years before a plant blooms again.
This year the one named Octavia is set to bloom sometime this week. Her yet-to-be-named clone will bloom the week after. Corpse flowers are native to Sumatra, Indonesia — a tropical environment unlike St. Louis. Despite the difference in day length, humidity and temperature, Colletti says MoBot has had decent luck with its collection of corpse flowers blooming somewhat regularly.
“They say [corpse flowers] have to have good temperatures — 80 degrees and high humidity. Some people you talk to say they grow them wet, other people say they grow them dry. Every institution seems to have their own way of doing it,” Colletti said. “If you’ve got the right micro environment, and [the corpse flowers are] happy, just continue to do what you’re doing.”
Last year, the corpse flower named Luna bloomed and plant-lovers lined up for hours to get a whiff. Colletti shared that some plants seem to pulse their stench to attract pollinators like flies and beetles, though there are times the flower may barely smell at all.
“Some blooms are just painfully stinky,” Colletti said. “We have had the intensity be as bad as pulling into our parking lot, opening the door and smelling it in the parking lot.” In other cases, she said, it can range from people “happily going in line and standing there and smelling it the whole night, and then getting up close to it and smell it more, [to] barely having a scent at all and going, ‘But, I came to smell it…’”
Colletti and the rest of the garden’s staff are waiting to see just how stinky the bloom will be. Based on the growth rate of the flower and its eternal temperature, Colletti said she expects Octavia to bloom sooner rather than later. “It’s like having a baby. The signs are there. When the contractions start, that’s when it goes. So, when it starts to heat up, then it’s going to bloom.”
For more on Emily Colletti’s experience with caring for the amorphallus titanium aka corpse flower and the team effort between botanical gardens to keep the corpse flower from extinction, listen to St. Louis on the Air on Apple Podcast, Spotify or Google Podcast by clicking the play button below.
Two corpse flowers are expected to bring the funk at Missouri Botanical Garden
What: Octavia the corpse flower blooming
When: Expected some time the week of July 24, 2023
Where: Missouri Botanical Garden 4344 Shaw Blvd, St. Louis, MO 63110
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Ulaa Kuziez is our production intern. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to email@example.com.