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‘It smells like death:’ Appalachian State welcomes rare, stinky corpse flower bloom

Mongo, a blooming 12-year-old corpse flower with a large yellow spadix in the center and dark red petals around it, bloomed at a greenhouse in Appalachian State University on November 24th.
Courtesy of Appalachian State Biology Greenhouse
Mongo, the 12-year-old corpse flower, finally bloomed at Appalachian State University on November 24th.

After 12 years of waiting, Appalachian State University’s corpse flower has finally blossomed.

The plant weighs about 30 pounds and lives in a greenhouse run by the university's biology department. It goes by the name Mongo, a moniker honoring the greenhouse’s longtime manager Jerry Meyer.

Titan arum, the corpse flower's scientific name, is known for its huge — but brief — blooms.

A typical corpse flower takes seven to 10 years to reach maturity. Once it does, the plant only stays open for a couple of days, with a full bloom lasting about 24 hours.

Chad Wunderlich, who has volunteered at Appalachian State’s greenhouse for more than 15 years, said the flower is most notable for its powerful, pollinator-attracting smell.

“It smells like death,” Wunderlich said. “The flies love it though, all the pollinators. The flies just gorge themselves on the pollen that's being produced. And that's how they take that pollen and pollinate the other flowers.”

Appalachian State Biology Professor Howard Neufeld said the smell is strongest in the first 12 hours it blooms. These blooms aren’t the only thing that’s rare about the corpse flower — it’s also an endangered species, he added.

The plant originates from Sumatra, Indonesia’s tropical rainforests. According to the United States Botanical Garden, only about 1,000 corpse flowers live in the wild.

Mongo first came to Appalachian State University in 2011.
Courtesy of Appalachian State Biology Greenhouse
Mongo first came to Appalachian State University in 2011.

This is due to deforestation of the plant’s natural habitat, Neufeld said. The corpse flower depends on the overstory, the part of tall trees that forms the canopy.

“When you eliminate the overstory, you are going to do great damage to species like this,” Neufeld said. “So I think we can impress upon people by the beauty of the flower and just how delicate it is … that preserving the forests are the key to preserving the species.”

Appalachian State’s corpse flower comes from Georgia. It was donated by the Atlanta Botanical Garden back in 2011.

Other public North Carolina universities also have their own titan arums. Another corpse flower bloomed this summer at North Carolina State University.

Appalachian State’s Greenhouse is open to the public and includes about 1,500 plant varieties. Its operating hours are from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. The greenhouse will announce on social media special hours to see Mongo.

Brianna Atkinson is WUNC’s 2024 Fletcher Fellow and covers higher education in partnership with Open Campus.
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