It’s got the largest cluster of flowers—sometimes more than eight feet tall—of any plant in the world. It doesn’t flower often—maybe once every seven to 10 years. And when it does decide to flower, it emits a foul smell like the rotting body of an animal.
Officially, it’s called the titan arum, or corpse flower. But the specimen at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, which is beginning to bloom for the first time since it arrived here two decades ago, is called Rotty Top.
“It’s a very unique plant,” said Jeff Martin, the greenhouse manager for UT’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. “It smells like a dead animal to attract flies, which are attracted to rotting animals. It’s bright crimson for the same reason. Botany courses use it for the students to understand different plants around the world. It’s a good teaching tool.”
Rotty Top comes from the rain forests of Sumatra, Indonesia. It usually lives in the biology greenhouse, but it has been moved—with a heat pad and humidifier—into Hesler Biology Building so members of the public can see and sniff it. “It’s hard to predict,” said Martin, “but it looks like it will bloom toward the end of this week or the beginning of next week.”
“I’ve watched it grow,” said Grace Donnelly, an environmental studies major from Cookeville, Tennessee, who works as a greenhouse assistant. “It’s been really cool. We’ve never had a flower yet. I’m really interested in what it’s going to smell like. I’ve heard it’s going to smell just terrible.”
Rotty Top is available for viewing in Hesler Room 402 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Budding budophiles can follow Rotty’s progress on Instagram.
UT’s indoor plant collection is housed in four greenhouses and contains 575 different types of plants. The collection is used by majors in biology, plant science, and ecology and environmental biology, and it is visited officially each year by 300 students in 10 different classes.
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