Nearly three years after becoming the first corpse flower to bloom at the Chicago Botanic Garden, Alice the Amorphophallus is on the verge of blooming again.
The Amorphophallus Titanum, or titan arum, stood at just under 3 feet in mid-June but has nearly doubled in size over the past 10 days. On Sunday, the plant cleared the 5-foot threshold, checking in at 63.5 inches.
Alice first bloomed on Sept. 28, 2015, releasing the plant’s characteristic foul odor over a relatively quick blooming period of 24 to 36 hours. The event occurred after Alice spent more than a decade building up energy in a vegetative state.
Scientists then collected pollen from the plant, which was saved for future pollination of other titan arums in the Botanic Garden’s collection and for donation to other botanic gardens and universities.
After a successful pollination, Alice produced fruit in the form of orange-red, olive-shaped berries. Each berry produced a single seed, and the seeds were collected for use in future titan arum conservation efforts.
When – or rather, if – Alice blooms for a second time, the leafy sheath of the flower will peel away and reveal its giant spadix, the inner spike of the plant, which attracts beetles, flesh flies and other pollinators. For the next day or two, the spadix will release a stench of rotting flesh (hence the plant’s nickname of corpse flower). The rancid odor, coupled with the red color of the inner spathe and flowers, tricks pollinators into thinking the plant is decaying meat.
What’s new about Alice now? This year, the Botanic Garden is displaying the plant outside, separate from the other members of its titan arum family, which reside in the Semitropical Greenhouse. According to the Botanic Garden, horticulturists wanted to see how Alice fares outdoors, where it is exposed to fresh air and the unpredictable elements of a Chicago summer.
Already, Alice 2.0 has surpassed the 55-inch apex reached by its predecessor three years ago. But given the plant's unpredictable nature, it’s unknown when the flower will bloom again or how tall it will grow, said Patrick Herendeen, the Botanic Garden’s senior director of systematics and evolutionary biology. Visitors hoping to check on Alice's status can see the plant in the Sensory Garden.
For a corpse flower to bloom is rare, both in the wild and in more controlled horticultural settings. Titan arums have just recently been coaxed into bloom after 10 or more years of careful cultivation.
The Botanic Garden began collecting the plants in 2003 as part of an international conservation effort to preserve the species.
In April, another titan arum, Spike, bloomed after becoming the Botanic Garden’s biggest corpse flower to enter its bloom cycle. Spike reached 82 inches (or 6 feet, 10 inches), the same height as the Bulls’ top pick (Wendell Carter Jr.) in last week’s NBA Draft.
More than 75,000 people visited Spike in August 2015 in anticipation of it blooming, but the plant did not have the energy to do so on its own.