Archives For Behind the Scenes

An uncommon look at how the Chicago Botanic Garden’s beauty is created and cultivated.

Ooooh-ooh That Smell…

The first visitors to our latest corpse flower bloom give their impressions

Renee T. —  April 26, 2016 — Leave a comment

#CBGSprout is raising a big stink at the Chicago Botanic Garden! Come see the rare phenomenon of a corpse flower in full bloom or check out the livestream; the Garden is open tonight until 2 a.m. (last entry is 1 a.m.).

We chatted with the early birds and met some “regulars”—visitors who had come by to meet Spike, the Garden’s first titan arum on display last August, and Alice, the corpse flower that bloomed last September.

Kids visiting corpse flower bloom, wearing a corpse flower t-shirt.

Maxwell and Lexi (in her Alice T-shirt) Kirchen visit Sprout early this morning before school.

Baby visiting corpse flower bloom at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Harper, 14 months old, waves at #CBGSprout the corpse flower.

Carrie Kirchen of Deerfield visited this morning, along with Maxwell, age 9, and Lexi, age 6.

Lexi: It smells horrible.

Maxwell: We found out on the Internet. The Internet knows everything.

Lexi: It’s very stinky.

Maxwell: It is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see it. And it is very stinky.

Carrie: I happened to see the Facebook post. And we were here every day for Spike (a titan arum that previously was on display at the Garden).

Jamie Smith of Highland Park was here with Harper, 14 months old, as well as Susan and Jim Osiol of Mt. Prospect.

Jamie: We keep coming! Third time is the charm.

Susan: I’m obsessed. Our daughter called first thing this morning: ‘Mom, Sprout is blooming!’

Jim: It is vibrant. It’s a piece of nature that’s fascinating.

Visitors to titan arum Sprout at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Megan and Daniel Ladror of Chicago

The first visitor to Sprout the titan arum on the morning after the bloom opened.

Emily Rosenberg of Highland Park was here when the doors opened at 6 a.m.

Megan and Daniel Ladror of Chicago analyzed the smell:

Daniel: This smells like our garbage at home after two days.

Megan: It’s such a rare event. I’m excited to see one without waiting in line.

Emily Rosenberg of Highland Park loved the bloom:

Emily: Beautiful. It is so interesting with the spathe (modified frilly leaf). It has great textures.

A visitor from the Czech Republic sniffs the window removed from the spathe for Sprout the corpse flower's pollination.

Roman Bouchal of the Czech Republic came for the smell this morning, and found it in the window removed from Sprout the corpse flower’s spathe for pollination.

Schoolteacher Jody Schatz reacts to Sprout the titan arum's smell.

Schoolteacher Jody Schatz will have something to share with her class at Reinberg Elementary School in Chicago.

Michelle and Haley Nordstrom, who live five minutes from the Garden:

Michelle (who was watching the livestream at the school bus stop with her daughter when she realized that Sprout was blooming; they jumped in the car): I took a photo of Sprout and sent it to my daughter’s school and said, “We’re going to be late.”

Visitors Roberta Stack, Joanna Wozniak, and Apple, age 7:

Roberta: I’ve been watching it in the camera and saw it open. I ran right down.

Apple: Pretty smelly.

Joanna: I’m catching a cheesey whiff. A bit of Parmesan.

Apple: It does kind of smell like cheese.


©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

The Chicago Botanic Garden is on #TitanWatch. That’s right: if you visit the Garden’s Semitropical Greenhouse, you will see Sprout, the latest corpse flower from the Garden’s collection of 13 titan arums to begin a bloom cycle. 

PHOTO: Corpse flowers (Amorphophallus titanum) on display in a variety of life stages: in fruit, leaf, and bud.

Our corpse flowers (Amorphophallus titanum) are now on display in a variety of life stages: in fruit, leaf, and imminent bloom.

You might remember Spike and Alice in 2015: Spike failed to bloom but provided so much excitement; and Alice the Amorphophallus brought visitors to the Garden at all hours to see, and smell, a corpse flower in bloom. Now we are all watching Sprout to see if the corpse flower—known as a titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum)— will produce a huge, rotten bloom. Follow the progress of #CBGSprout on our corpse flower webcam and check our website for updates.

We learned a lot about corpse flowers in the last few months, and in the Semitropical Greenhouse, there are corpse flowers at three different stages on display: in the middle of a bloom cycle (Sprout); a non-blooming titan arum leaf; and a pollinated and fruiting titan arum (it’s Alice!). 

Here’s what you need to know as you watch Sprout grow:

  1. The corpse flower is one of the largest and rarest flowering plants in the world. It takes seven to ten years for a single corpse flower to produce a flowering structure (inflorescence). While other corpse flowers in cultivation have bloomed around the world recently, having more than one plant bloom in such a short time is uncommon. Watch for these signs the titan arum bloom is starting.
  2. Corpse flowers smell bad. Really bad. Peak stink time is usually very late at night.
  3. Speaking of night, that’s when corpse flowers usually bloom. And once they bloom, the bloom lasts 24 to 36 hours. Want a sneak peek? View our last titan arum bloom.
  4. If Sprout blooms, the Garden will stay open until 2 a.m. so visitors can experience the corpse flower bloom up close (last Garden entry will be 1 a.m.). Watch the live corpse flower webcam, check the blog (subscribe today), and follow the Garden on Facebook and #CBGSprout on Twitter to get the latest information. 
  5. Corpse flowers are BIG. In their natural habitats, they can reach 10 to 12 feet tall with a bloom diameter of 5 feet. In cultivation, they typically reach 6 to 8 feet in height, but all are different. 
  6. Corpse flowers are unpredictable. When the Garden was watching Spike, the first titan arum, even the horticulturists were surprised that the plant did not flower.
  7. Corpse flowers are native to Sumatra, but Sprout was grown here from seed the Garden received in 2008 from the University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley. Learn about the titan arum’s native habitat.
  8. The corpse flower includes the corm, which may or may not go on to produce a flower; the spadix, which is the tall flower spike; the spathe, which is a single, frilly, modified leaf that enwraps the spadix; the petiole, which is the leaf stalk; and the branch-like rachis, which supports the many leaflets. Find more diagrams and information in our titan arum educator resourcesILLUSTRATION: Titan arum leaf parts diagram.
  9. Corpse flowers that bloom in the wild attract pollinators like carrion beetles and flesh flies. Once the plant is successfully pollinated, it develops olive-shaped, red-orange berries. Read more about titan arum pollination.
  10. Corpse flowers need protection. The Garden’s conservation work ensures that plants like these survive and thrive. Studying seeds from Sprout, Spike, and Alice enables scientists and horticulturists at universities, conservatories, and other institutions increase the genetic diversity of the species. See how we are studying our titan arum fruit.

PHOTO: The mature fruit of this Amorphophallus titanum is now being collected for seed.

The mature fruit of Alice the Amorphophallus is now being collected for seed.


We will be announcing extended viewing hours when #CBGSprout blooms. Spring is here, however—see what else is currently in bloom


©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

It happens every year—like Groundhog’s Day—and I have the same déjà vu annually!

Each winter for the past 20-plus years, I have supervised and worked on the pruning of the apple orchard at the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden. Since pruning has such a great effect on an apple tree’s health, it became an annual duty of the Plant Health Care Department (that I manage) many years ago.

PHOTO: Tom Tiddens and Tom Fritz pruning the apple orchard.

Tom Tiddens and Tom Fritz pruning the apple orchard.

PHOTO: Closeup of pruning.

Cutting in the right location ensures speedy healing, and a good shape when finished.

To prune the north orchard (about 43 trees) it takes three people about two weeks. We wait until late winter/early March to begin pruning and complete the work before the buds begin to plump and open, as this is the optimal window to prune apple trees for plant health. Over the years I have been in every tree many, many times. Some are easier to prune than others, and some are downright intimidating. The one tree that is the most difficult to prune has been named “The Spirit Breaker,” and we always draw straws to see who gets to prune that one—it takes a full day! Overall, I very much enjoy this late winter pruning project, as it has become an annual rite of passage into spring for me.

Our current style of pruning strikes a balance between ornamental pruning and conventional orchard pruning, which focuses more on production (and which can be very aggressive) and less on plant health. The difference is that every cut we make is carefully made by hand back to a branch or bud, without violating the basic ornamental pruning rules. These carefully made cuts allow for healing without the dieback that can promote disease and other problems. We also work on developing proper branch angles, and thin the tree for better light penetration; another goal is to keep the height down. When pruning is complete, our orchard from a distance looks similar to conventional orchard pruning, where the older trees are kept low, but when you look closely, you can see the difference. 

PHOTO: The apple orchard before pruning.

Before pruning

PHOTO: The apple orchard after pruning.

After pruning

Why is it so important to prune an apple tree annually as we do to our apple orchard?

  • Proper annual pruning will increase harvest quality.
  • Pruning lessens diseases such as apple scab, fire blight, and leaf spot. It increases air circulation and allows the tree to dry out more quickly; moisture promotes disease. 
  • Keeping the trees thinned out (and not so tall) allows for better spray coverage for insect and disease treatments. (All treatments at the Garden are organic products, such as sulfur [mineral] for disease suppression.)  
  • Pruning regulates the height of the trees for easier harvesting.
  • Pruning allows for better light penetration for more—and higher quality—fruit.
  • Pruning allows for branch directional training that will increase production and lessen apple weight-load breakage in late summer.

PHOTO: The apple arbor in bloom, April 2012.

The apple arbor in bloom, April 2012. New whipstock was planted on half the arbor a few years ago, and the new trees should soon look this good again.

Being that the orchard is on the far north side of the Fruit & Vegetable Garden, I feel that many visitors miss out on the experience of walking through the orchard. Experiencing a walk through the orchard in the spring when the apple trees are in full bloom, with the fragrance saturating the air, is a sensory overload and a must-do! In the summer, the outer walk becomes almost tunnel-like, and you feel as if you are on another planet. It’s also fun to watch the fruit develop throughout the season, although please avoid the temptation to pick, as the fruit needs to be harvested at the proper time (which is different for each variety), and we use the harvest in many ways. Next time you are visiting the Chicago Botanic Garden, make it a point to “walk the orchard.”

As for me, I am closing this year’s book on “time to prune the orchard;” 2016’s orchard prune is complete!

Special thanks to Thomas Fritz and Chris Beiser (plant health care specialists and certified arborists) who worked diligently to get the orchard prune completed this year.


©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Alice the Amorphophallus—An Update on Titan Arum Fruit

Why Alice's Berries Vary

Karen Z. —  March 3, 2016 — Leave a comment

Thousands of visitors to the Orchid Show at the Chicago Botanic Garden have been delighted to see a special guest star at the Tropical Greenhouse: Alice the Amorphophallus is on display, in full and glorious fruit! 

Visitors are asking: why are some of the berries on the titan arum (or corpse flower) skinny and small, while others are big and plump?

Dr. Pat Herendeen and “Titan Tim” Pollak plucked a few of each in mid-February, X-rayed them, and performed a bit of berry surgery to get the answer.

PHOTO: An x-ray view of titan arum fruit pollinated by Spike (Chicago Botanic Garden).

An x-ray view of titan arum fruit pollinated by Spike (Chicago Botanic Garden, 2015).

PHOTO: An x-ray view of titan arum fruit pollinated by Stinky (Denver Botanic Gardens, 2015).

An x-ray view of titan arum fruit pollinated by Stinky (Denver Botanic Gardens, 2015).

PHOTO: Pat Herendeen examines titan arum seed under microscope; gloves protect his hands from oxalate crystals in the fruit.

Dr. Pat Herendeen examines titan arum seed under microscope; gloves protect his hands from oxalate crystals in the fruit.

X-rays showed that seeds had developed in the larger berries—those pollinated with pollen from Stinky, the titan arum that recently bloomed at the Denver Botanic Gardens. There were no signs of seeds in the smaller berries, which were pollinated by Spike, the Garden’s first titan arum. Dissection confirmed it; the large berries are ripening, while the smaller berries are sterile.

Spike and Stinky contributed all the pollen used for Alice’s pollination last September. About one-third of Alice’s female flowers received Spike’s pollen; about two-thirds received Stinky’s—and you can see the difference visually.

Garden scientists believe that Spike and Alice, who are siblings, are too closely related genetically to create healthy seeds, while Stinky, thought to be more distantly related, provided appropriate genetic material for proper reproduction.

You can see the difference on Alice’s infructescence (fruit stalk), too: the stalk is curving. As the chubby, seed-filled fruits from Stinky’s pollen continue to ripen and enlarge, the structure is bending over the small, non-viable fruits from Spike’s pollen. 

Each of the berries produced by Stinky’s pollen will make one or two seeds. It will take several more months for the fruits to ripen and turn deep red—a signal that seeds may finally be collected. 

PHOTO: One fruit resulting from Spike’s pollen is on the left; two fruits from Stinky’s pollen is in the center and on the right. The fruit in the center has been opened and the two seeds removed. The large seed on the right, though still unripened, reveals what the final titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum) seed will look like.

One fruit resulting from Spike’s pollen is on the left; two fruits from Stinky’s pollen are in the center and on the right. The fruit in the center has been opened and the two seeds removed. The large seed on the right, though still unripened, reveals what the final titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum) seed will look like.

What’s Next for Alice’s Seeds?

Because the titan arum’s natural habitat in Indonesia has degraded so drastically—estimates say 72 percent has been lost—scientific and academic institutions like the Chicago Botanic Garden have become safe havens in which titan arums can grow and multiply.

After Alice’s fully-ripened fruits are collected, the seeds will be extracted, cleaned, stored, and shared. Alice’s seeds will contribute to titan conservation through:

  • Seed sharing between gardens, universities, and other institutions.
  • Raising new plants here at the Garden to bolster our titan collection.
  • Researching DNA to increase diversity among titan plants.

 

Relive the excitement of Alice’s bloom! Our blogs and videos track Alice’s progress from bud to fruit.


©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

A Search for Rare Oak Species Yields Results

Plant Collecting Collaborative visits Southeastern United States

Andrew Bunting —  January 21, 2016 — 2 Comments

On October 25 last year, I met Matt Lobdell, curator at the Morton Arboretum, in Orange Beach, Alabama, to begin a ten-day plant expedition trip to Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. 

Matt Lobdell had received a grant from the American Public Gardens Association and the U.S. Forest Service in the spring to collect seed of Quercus oglethorpensis from as many genetic populations as possible, so that the breadth of this species could be preserved in ex-situ collections in botanic gardens and arboreta. This expedition was an opportunity to collect this species and other important oak species, as well as other species of trees, shrubs, and perennials that could be added to our collections.

We were targeting the collection of four oaks with conservation status: Oglethorpe oak (Quercus oglethorpensis), Georgia oak (Quercus georgiana), Boynton sand post oak (Quercus boyntonii), and Arkansas oak (Quercus arkansana). All four of these oaks are on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, which identifies plants that have important conservation status. (Quercus georgiana and Q. oglethorpensis are listed as endangered.)

PHOTO: Matt Lobdell at the Morton Arboretum and Greg Paige at Bartlett Tree Research Laboratory and Arboretum make an herbarium voucher of Quercus boyntonii.

Matt Lobdell at the Morton Arboretum and Greg Paige at Bartlett Tree Research Laboratory and Arboretum make an herbarium voucher of Quercus boyntonii.

Any successful plant expedition is the result of a very collaborative effort. Because we are often looking for hard-to-find species, we rely on local experts. For different parts of the trip we had guidance from Mike Gibson of Huntsville Botanical Garden; John Jensen and Tom Patrick at the Georgia Department of Natural Resources; Brian Keener at the University of Western Alabama, assisted by Wayne K. Webb at Superior Trees; Fred Spicer, CEO of Birmingham Botanical Gardens; and Patrick Thompson of Davis Arboretum at Auburn University.

We were also joined by other institutions that helped with both the collection of seed and the associated data, but also helped with the collecting of two herbarium vouchers for each collection (pressed specimens), which are now housed in the herbaria at the Morton Arboretum and Chicago Botanic Garden respectively. Assistance was provided by Tim Boland of Polly Hill Arboretum; Amy Highland and Cat Meholic of Mt. Cuba Center; Ethan Kauffman of Moore Farms Botanical Garden; and Greg Paige from Bartlett Tree Research Laboratory and Arboretum.

Our expedition begins

On October 26, we collected at Gulf State Park in pelting rain and very high winds that resulted from the remnants of Hurricane Patricia, which had made landfall near Puerto Vallarta days earlier. Nevertheless, we found several small, windswept oaks in this sandy habitat, including Q. myrtifolia, Q. minima, Q. geminata, and Q. chapmanii.

PHOTO: Talladega National Forest

Talladega National Forest

The next day, we moved north to the Talladega National Forest in central Alabama. In addition to collecting more oaks, we made collections of the beautyberry (Callicarpa americana), Euonymus americanus, and the buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis). We also saw fantastic specimens of the big-leaf magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla), but we were too late to find any viable seed.

PHOTO: Quercus boyntonii

Quercus boyntonii

Fred Spicer, CEO of the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, joined us the next day, October 28, to take us to several populations of Q. boyntonii, where we were able to make collections for six different populations. He also took us to Moss Rock Preserve in Jefferson County, where we made collections of the Georgia oak (Quercus georgiana). We also made a collection of the Carolina silverbell (Halesia tetraptera).

On October 30, we spent the day in Sumter County, Alabama, with Brian Keener, where we encountered Quercus arkansana, Dalea purpurea, Viburnum rufidulum, and Liatris aspera.

On October 31, we botanized in Blount County, Alabama, at Swann Bridge. Below the bridge was a small river, where we saw an array of interesting plants including the yellowroot (Xanthorhiza simplicissima); hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana); a small St. Johnswort (Hypericum prolificum); and a native stewartia (Stewartia malacodendron), in which we were able to find a few seeds. From there we continued on to the Bibb County Glades and collected Silphium glutinosum and Hypericum densiflorum.

PHOTO: Bibb County Glades

Bibb County Glades

PHOTO: Moss Rock Preserve at the habitat of Quercus georgiana

Moss Rock Preserve at the habitat of Quercus georgiana

On the following day, we made another collection of Quercus boyntonii in St. Clair Country and then headed to the Little River Canyon in Cherokee County. This was a rich area filled with native vegetation of many popular plants including the maple leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium), with its wine-red fall color; both the smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens), and the oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia); the winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata), and the Carolina allspice (Calycanthus floridus). Interestingly, many of these Alabama natives are perfectly hardy in the Chicago area.

Toward the end of the trip, we headed into Jasper County, Georgia, and met up with John Jensen and Tom Patrick of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, who helped us find populations of Quercus oglethorpensis. In Taylor County, we collected several oaks, including Q. margarettae, Q. incana, and Q. laevis.

We finished the expedition in Sumter National Forest in McCormick County, South Carolina. This was the final collecting site for Q. oglethorpensis, which was cohabiting with Baptisia bracteata and Q. durandii.

PHOTO: Little River Canyon

Little River Canyon

PHOTO: Quercus ogelthorpensis seedlings in Jasper Country, Georgia

Quercus oglethorpensis seedlings in Jasper Country, Georgia

An expedition’s rewards

In total, we made 92 collections of seed and herbarium vouchers. The seed is being grown at both the Chicago Botanic Garden and the Morton Arboretum. Most likely, plants will not be ready for distribution until 2017 and most likely would not be planted into the Garden’s collections until 2018 at the earliest.

In spring 2016, Northwestern University graduate student Jordan Wood will retrace some of our steps in search of leaf samples of Q. oglethorpensis so he can study the DNA and fully understand the genetic breadth of this species throughout its native range from Louisiana to South Carolina.


©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org