If you ever come to my house and smell rotting flesh, please don’t call the cops...
It’s just my corpse flower!
Last year I was gifted with a corm (similar to a bulb) of Amorphophallus konjac, and I have been anxiously awaiting the springtime so I can plant the thing.
Theoretically, the corm should stay dormant until I plant it sometime in April. Then, as the temperature increases and the days lengthen, the corm will bloom, releasing a putrid odor designed to attract pollinating flies. Even the flower petals are red and leathery to mimic the look of decaying meat!
I have had the corm on a bookshelf for the last month since I moved into my new house. A few days ago, I began to notice that it appeared slightly larger. Thinking nothing of it, I left the corm on the bookshelf until its flower sheath grew so large that it hit the shelf above it.
Clearly, my corpse flower is blooming a month early. Despite leaving the corm unburied, away from direct sunlight, and inside my house, I had inadvertently created suitable habitat conditions for the corm to begin its flowering process. A flower that grows from a corm does not need to be immediately planted. It has a stockpile of stored energy inside the fleshy walls of the corm. A lack of dirt, water, and sunlight wasn’t an issue.
Neither was temperature. At 69 °F, my house was the perfect temperature to trigger the flowering process. My friend who gave me the flower lives 15 miles away and keeps his house at a relatively cool 65 °F. His corms (he has a bunch) haven’t grown much, if at all.
It’s amazing what difference four degrees can make. In an often-overlooked aspect of habitat, temperature may be one of the most important conditions affecting what lives in or around your property. As we’ve seen with the corpse flower, environmental cues such as “flower or not”, or “inhabit or not” can be triggered on knife-edge margins. This is especially important given that elevation is a huge indicator of temperature. On average, an elevation gain of 1,000 ft correlates with a temperature decrease of 3 °F.
Temperature is so important to many species of reptiles that it can determine what sex hatches from an egg. In the Red-eared Slider (think the pet turtle you can buy at a pet store), at temperatures below 28 °C (82 °F), almost all eggs will hatch as male. Above 31 °C (88 °F), they will almost all hatch as female. This is true for most turtle species and all crocodilians (crocodiles, alligators, caimans, etc.).
Keep temperature in mind as you plan your backyard habitat. Will the vegetation you choose thrive in the temperatures your region experiences? If so, will they flower at the right time to be in sync with the pollinators and other creatures depending on that vegetation?
I am told my corpse flower will bloom within the week. When it does, it will smell like death for about 3 days. Hopefully I'm not arrested when that happens!
Until next time!
Barbour, Michael; Pavlik, Bruce; Drysdale, Frank; and Lindstrom, Susan. 1993. California’s Changing Landscapes: Diversity and Conservation of California Vegetation. A publication of the California Native Plant Society.
Gilbert SF. Developmental Biology. 6th edition. Sunderland (MA): Sinauer Associates; 2000. Environmental Sex Determination. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK9989/
Ewald, Jacob. March 2019.