"Romero" Corpse Flower Soon to Stink Up Phipps

  • A native of the Sumatran rainforests, this unusual plant is the largest un-branched flower cluster in the world. Photo: Casey Premoshis

  • Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens visitors check out the corpse flower--aka, Amorphophallus titanum. Photo: Casey Premoshis

  • Phipps Conservatory acquired the corpse flower in 2010 and it will be the first plant of its kind to ever bloom there. Photo: Casey Premoshis

August 16, 2013
By Casey Premoshis

The words “corpse” and “flower” are usually not found in the same sentence—they’re stark, contrasting images, and smells. A foul stench and disgusting rot for one and a sweet fragrance and delicate petals for the other. But the ready-to-bloom corpse flower at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh combines all of these elements into one plant. At six-feet-tall, the corpse flower has a dark, purple central staff that imitates the look of decaying meat, with the pungent smell of rotten flesh.

The flower smells like this in order to attract flies and beetles that will pollinate it. It grows several feet wide to further assist in attracting pollinators. 

And it’s got other unusual features, as Phipps horticulturist Ben Dunigan explains.

“To create a flower of that size is a huge expense on the tuber, and it also has this interesting feature where the plant heats up to near 100 degrees. It’s called thermogenic,” says Dunigan.

Phipps named the corpse flower "Romero", after Pittsburgher and "Night of the Living Dead" director George Romero.  The plant even managed to use its stench to attract the filmmaker to Phipps Conservatory for a visit.

“Obviously with his history in the films he made, you know corpse flower was just for us a no-brainer to name it after our local celebrity George Romero," Dunigan says. "But the one thing that he did express to me is that now he feels that we really have to take care of it because now that it does hold his name, he doesn’t want to see it, you know as much as he likes zombies, he doesn’t want this one to see any short demise.”

Romero is expected to bloom at Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh by the end of August, and you can follow his progress online by liking his Facebook page and following his Twitter account, @RomeroAtPhipps.