Alameda residents were understandably delighted on Monday when a rare example of an Amorphophallus titanum or corpse flower showed up outside of any museum setting, just in a simple pot at an abandoned gas station for all to see.
The plant was cultivated by a local nursery owner, Solomon Leyva, as the Chronicle reports, and he decided when it made a once-in-a-decade decision to bloom that he should share it with the public. That meant loading it into a wagon and rolling it over to an abandoned property nearby at Oak Street and Santa Clara Avenue, across from a CVS pharmacy in Alameda.
Leyva has been sitting in a lawn chair nearby babysitting the rare bloom — which, reportedly, doesn't smell so bad unless you're pretty close to it — and he says he's happy that so many people are getting joy out of it.
"Everyone is commenting to me that the last time they’ve seen this was in San Francisco, and there was a barrier, and they had to wait for hours, and they weren’t allowed to get near it," Leyva tells the Chronicle. “I think everyone’s tripping out that they can walk up and wiggle it and smell it. A lot of fun for everybody."
They may have been referring to the 2017 or 2020 blooming of one of the A. titanum at SF's Conservatory of Flowers. The conservatory has four of the plants, and the one named Terra the Titan is 13 years old and has bloomed twice. The August 2020 bloom attracted onlookers who couldn't go inside the conservatory, but who lined up nonetheless to see it through plexiglass, as Richmond Review reported.
A trio of A. titanum specimens were donated to the Conservatory in 2014 after being cultivated in a Mission District bathtub without blooming.
And it's unclear what Leyva meant by "wiggle it," but presumably he's not being as protective of the plant as the Conservatory is — back in 2017, a visitor was notably scolded for fondling Terra mid-bloom, as Hoodline reported.
The species, native to Sumatra and believed to have only 1,000 examples left in the wild, takes seven to ten years to bloom for the first time, and then can bloom every three to five years thereafter. Each bloom lasts only about 48 hours, and it gives off a putrid aroma akin to rotting fish or carrion — which in the wild is meant to attracted dung beetles and other insects that help it pollinate and reproduce.
The central, phallic-like yellow spadix is not the bloom itself — around its base around hundreds of little flowers waiting to be pollinated. Horticulturists do this by hand with brushes and vials of pollen from other corpse flowers.
The Conservatory's Suma the Titan bloomed in July 2018, Amor the Arum bloomed in September 2018, and Scarlett the Titan bloomed in May 2019. This means that Suma and Amor could be due to bloom again this summer.
Time-lapse video below shows the entire bloom and wilt process — and that phallus going soft — from Suma's bloom in 2018.
The Alameda plant, which appears slightly smaller than the Conservatory's specimens with a spadix about five feet tall including the pot, is perhaps even more of a wonder because it was grown outside of the strict temperature- and moisture-controlled environment of the Conservatory — but Leyva clearly knows what he's doing and kept it alive this long.