World’s largest flower blooms in Hanover this week

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Morphy, the Dartmouth corpse flower, will bloom in just a few days. Here, a placard shows what Morphy will look like.

Dartmouth’s corpse flower is scheduled to bloom on Wednesday, September 21 or Thursday, September 22. The corpse flower or titan arum (Amorphophallus titanium) is the world’s largest unbranched flower, and it only blooms about once every seven years. Blooms are usually considered rare, but 2016 has been a bizarre year for America’s corpse flowers. Many are blooming simultaneously across the nation. Just last month, three corpse flowers emerged Washington DC, New York, and Denver. Earlier in the year, there were other flowers in Sarasota and Winter Park, Florida, Bloomington, Indiana, and Charleston and Chicago, Illinois. If you weren’t among the thousands who traveled to see these blooms, you’re in luck: New Hampshire will soon be home to America’s 10th corpse flower bloom.

The corpse flower, nicknamed “Morphy,” is housed in the greenhouses of Dartmouth College’s biology building, and there will be extended hours throughout the week for the public to visit the plant. Right now, Morphy stands five feet tall and may grow a few more feet before it blooms. A live camera feed is keeping the campus – and the world – posted on Morphy’s progress. When Morphy blooms, the flower will smell unpleasant, like sulfur and rotting flesh. That smell gives the plant its colloquial name – the corpse flower. After only a few days, the bloom will fade and put Morphy back into “hibernation” for seven more years.

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Morphy was grown from a small stem by New Hampshire surgeon Dr. Louis Ricciardiello, who collects corpse flowers and cares for hundreds of the rare and notoriously hard-to-grow plants. He donated Morphy to Dartmouth College in 2007, when the plant was still too young to bloom. Every few years, Morphy would send up a stalk and leaves, soaring at times to more than ten feet. The leaves soaked up energy from the sun and stored it in Morphy’s massive underground tuber, which today weighs more than 35 pounds. After a season, the leaves would fade and the stalk would shrink, leaving Morphy at an assuming 12-18 inches. That’s where Morphy stood until two weeks ago, when caretakers entered Morphy’s special room and found a large stalk, preparing to bloom. Since that moment, Morphy has grown at a rapid pace – about four inches every day.

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Morphy (right) and a younger counterpart (left). Morphy is more than five feet high and about to bloom. The younger corpse flower has only sent up leaves this year, which will collect energy from the sun and store the energy in the plant’s underground tuber. Eventually, that energy will convert into a bloom, although it make take years before the process is complete.

This will be Morphy’s second bloom. The first occurred in 2011 and the second was not expected until 2018. Although Morphy might be early according to botanical standards, Morphy is right on schedule with the rest of America’s corpse flowers. No one knows why so many of America’s corpse flowers have decided to bloom at once this year. It might simply be a function of having more corpse flowers in more collections, since modern technologies like computer-controlled greenhouses make growing and caring for the plants much easier. But for now, the answer to the mass blooming remains a mystery to scientists, and you can become part of it. Visit Hanover this week and grab a selfie with Morphy, the world’s largest unbranched flower. Better yet, have someone take the picture for you, because the plant is huge and you might not be able to fit Morphy in the shot!

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While at Dartmouth’s greenhouse, be sure to check out their fabulous orchid collection. Not all the orchids bloom at the same time, but Dartmouth houses dozens of different species and you are sure to see something beautiful.

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