Flower Is Set to Make a Big Stink

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Leo Song, curator of Cal State Fullerton's greenhouse, felt like a father-to-be disappointed by false labor. The 8-year-old titan arum plant he tends showed every sign of blooming Wednesday, then didn't.

A new growth had appeared at the base of the plant's 3-foot-tall stalk, a sprout that was definitely not just another leaf. It was a bud, and it seemed ready to open. But that won't happen until today, Song said, and when it does, it will be one stinky event.

The plant, known as a corpse flower, "smells like a dead horse that's been lying in a field in July for a week," Song said.

The putrid smell, repulsive to humans, attracts seed-scattering insects and birds. The flower is spectacular, making the green plant resemble a long, skinny squash with a red speckled ballerina's skirt.

For the special event, the campus staff moved the plant from the greenhouse to a porch in the arboretum.

The Cal State Fullerton plant is rare, and its blossoming is even more unusual because titan arum flowers appear erratically. Song estimated that since 1927 only 20 corpse flowers have bloomed in the U.S.

A year ago, when another plant blossomed on campus, 5,000 people came to see it, arboretum director Greg Dyment said. On Wednesday, only 20 visitors stopped by, but word of the blessed event was just getting around.

Fullerton residents Marie and Henry Velde said that despite the blossom's no-show, they were glad they came.

"It's still very striking," Henry Velde said of the burgeoning plant. "It's big. It really is."

The couple said they will return this weekend to watch the plant's development.

Others who want to make just one stop to experience the blossom's three-day extravaganza should drop by this afternoon, Song said, when the flower will be at its peak. Afterward, it will begin to wilt.

Visitors shouldn't wear clothes they mind getting pungent.

Song, who suggested T-shirts and jeans, said, "It's like what happens when you're around cigar smoke. It makes you smell too."

The corpse flower exhibit will be open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. today only. On Friday, the arboretum will return to its regular hours, 8 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.

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