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Alice’s Big Bloom Day

Our second titan; our first bloom

Tim Pollak —  October 9, 2015 — 2 Comments

So many of you corpse flower fans had questions about Alice’s bloom time and scent that I thought I’d give you a timeline and extra details about Alice’s big night and the day that followed.

Over the course of 2 days, over 13,700 people came to see Alice the Amorphophallus; by the end of the weekend 20,000 people saw the bloom.

PHOTO: Alice the Amorphophallus hits the top of the "trending" charts on September 29.

Loving the “buzz”! Did we surpass caffeine in popularity this evening? A short while after this screenshot was taken, we did.

What a day, and what a week! Alice the Amorphophallus took us all by surprise by beginning her bloom cycle late on Monday, September 28. We’d been expecting her to bloom around October 1, and had been watching for the telltale clues, just as we had with Spike in August. Alice’s two outer bracts had fallen away on the weekend, but she continued to grow.

Pampered like a movie star and protected from direct sunlight this time of year with a beach umbrella, she enjoyed a cozy, humid greenhouse. We watered frequently and monitored Alice’s internal temperature, checking several times each day with the use of a new, forward looking infrared (FLIR) camera—a thermographic camera that senses infrared radiation—since the heating of the spadix (the tall spike in the middle) over 90 degrees Fahrenheit is a sure sign that bloom has started.

Our precocious plant, however, decided to begin opening late at night! Around 11 p.m. Monday evening, it was evident that the spathe was pulling away from the spadix, and by 2:30 a.m., there was a noticeable smell—from outside the greenhouse. Alice was blooming.

PHOTO: Alice the Amorphophallus in full bloom, around 8 a.m. on September 29, 2015.

Alice the Amorphophallus in full bloom, around 8 a.m. on September 29, 2015.

PHOTO: A thermographic image of Alice in bloom shows the spadix heating up.

A thermographic image of Alice in bloom shows the spadix heating up.

Alice’s Flowering Timeline

PHOTO: Alice's spathe opened late at night.

Monday, September 28, 11 p.m. — The spathe (a frilly modified leaf) begins to pull away from the tall spadix (flower spike); Alice’s internal temperature begins to increase to help volatize the odor to attract pollinators.

PHOTO: Early morning visitors were not overly fond of the smell.

Monday – Tuesday, September 28 – 29, midnight to 10 a.m. — This is the peak of the flowering period, when the strongest odor is produced. The odor is noticeable when entering the Regenstein Center and Semitropical Greenhouse. The spathe is most open during this time (to about 75 percent). The spadix temperature is at its highest point of 95 degrees Fahrenheit internally; the female flowers are receptive to pollinating at this time.

PHOTO: The female Amorphophallus titanum flowers are ready for pollination.

Tuesday, September 29, 8:30 a.m. — Small windows are cut open at the base of the spathe to perform the “manual pollination process,” using the pollen from Spike and donated pollen from the Denver Botanic Gardens (from a titan arum named Stinky).

PHOTO: Titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum).

Tuesday, September 29, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. — The odor begins to dissipate; it is only noticeable within 10 feet of the plant.

Tuesday, September 29, 3 to 10 p.m. — The spathe begins to close up. The temperature of the male flowers increases to 87 degrees Fahrenheit to help ripen the male flowers to produce pollen (see photo above).

PHOTO: Long strings of pollen are collected from Alice the Amorphophallus.

Tuesday, September 29, 11 p.m. — Pollen is collected from the male flowers to save for future pollination of the other titan arums in the Chicago Botanic Garden’s collection and to be available to donate to other botanic gardens and universities, as requested.

PHOTO: By the next morning, the spathe on Alice the Amorphophallus was tightly closed.

Wednesday, September 30, 6 a.m. to noon — There is very little odor, except within 2 feet of the bloom; the spathe is about 25 percent open.

Thursday, October 1 — The spathe continues moving closer to the spadix; there is very little odor.

Friday, October 2 — The spadix begins to soften and collapse, and the spathe withers. The plant diverts energy to continue the pollination process, as well as the development of fruit and, eventually, seeds.

PHOTO: The titan arum spadix collapses after bloom.

Monday, October 5 — The spadix has collapsed and fructescence (the developing of fruit after pollination) begins.

Tuesday, October 6 —Alice moves back into the production greenhouses with the titan arum collection. Fruit will develop over the next several months.


PHOTO: Our Facebook comments were just as much fun as the greenhouse.

Visitors online enjoyed the scene as much as those here in the greenhouse.

Asked to share my most memorable moments, I answer that they naturally revolved around the kids. So many kids had come to see Alice, many awake way past their bedtimes! One special moment stands out:

A 12-year-old girl, who’d come to see Spike four or five times (plus watched live on the webcam), came up to me and said, “I just had to come to Alice too! I’m so excited! And I couldn’t wait to meet Titan Tim! Can I get my picture with you?” My heart grew ten times larger right then and there. She was practically jumping out of her shoes, even after waiting more than two hours in line. She told me she’d just ordered a voodoo lily online (it’s a close relative of Amorphophallus titanum) and said, “I can’t wait for it to bloom, to smell it!” I knew in that moment I was speaking to a potential future horticulturist or botanist.


©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

“Titan Tim” Pollak here, with some thoughts about Spike the corpse flower as he goes into dormancy. I never thought I’d call myself “Titan Tim,” but Spike has forever changed my life—as he did life here at the Chicago Botanic Garden—during the four weeks he was on display in our Semitropical Greenhouse.

Lyn Skor Quote

Spike brought the nation’s—and even the world’s—attention to the Garden, as we waited for our first-ever flowering titan to open up in all its stinky and colorful glory. The event—and I am proud to call this an event—brought more than 76,000 visitors to see Spike (8,200 people alone on Sunday, August 30, when we manually opened up the flower), making it by far the largest event in the Chicago Botanic Garden’s history.) In addition, there were 948 television and radio stories broadcast and 126 online reports, reaching an unbelievable 173,884,617 estimated people!

I myself did 42 interviews regarding Spike, including television, radio, print, and internet. And I wrote seven blogs along the way, telling the story, history, origins, care, and details about the smell of Amorphophallus titanum, the world’s largest unbranched inflorescence.

During all of the “Spike-mania,” I was often asked if I was getting any sleep. My answer was “Not so much!” Spike became a member of my family, a sort of adopted son that I referred to as “him,” “he,” “mine,” and “ours” in conversation. During those weeks, Spike became my life, 24/7, day and night…and I became “Titan Tim,” for sure.

Julie Ferraro Quote


The power of one plant…Wow!

“When is he going to bloom?” That was the number one question on everyone’s mind, both at the Garden and from visitors. As you know by now, Spike didn’t have the energy to bloom by himself, as we thought he would. (Read the story about it here.)

Nicole Dh Quote

Finally, we decided to manually open the spathe to check on the viability of the male and female individual flowers inside. If healthy enough, we could attempt to pollinate the female flowers with donor pollen from recent titans at the Denver Botanic Gardens and California’s Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. We also wanted to collect the pollen produced by Spike’s male flowers, to preserve some here for the future, to donate to other institutions, and to contribute to global genetic diversity.

We knew we would be giving our visitors a very rare opportunity to see the internal flower structures up close—to observe, touch, feel, and even smell a procedure that has rarely ever been done. What a teaching moment it became! (Spike taught the world about pollination.) At that point, horticulture and science met in the transparency of the public eye. Our horticultural staff had nurtured and cared for Spike for 12 years. Our scientists had long been working to bring attention to the endangered and threatened plant species of the world. And the public was curious and enthusiastic about learning the facts about a “huge, rotten, and rare” phenomenon.

That morning, I experienced the power of one plant—an experience that will stay with me for the rest of my life. Despite the disappointment, Spike was a success: he was a rock star and a hero to the botanical world.

Melissa Perrin Quote


To all of Spike’s Garden friends

To still have people coming by and asking questions well into the week after Spike's spathe was removed was pretty remarkable.

To still have people coming by and asking questions well into the week after Spike’s spathe was removed was pretty remarkable.

The other amazing experience for me was with Spike’s visitors, fans, and “groupies.” He had such a large following, and I often saw some of the same people visit day after day! I heard and received so many positive comments from visitors. People said that Spike was part of daily dinner conversations—that they would converse about when he was going to bloom, how tall he was going to get, and so on. Spike had become a household name! Many of you were devoted watchers of the streaming live cam on our website and on YouTube, and many wrote to say that you saw me every morning checking on him, measuring him, touching him, and smelling him. It was wonderful and humbling, and it made me feel like a proud papa to Spike!

I want to share with you just a few of the many wonderful comments I received via e-mail and in response to my blogs:

From Don H.: “How very cool to experience something so astounding after years of care. I can’t wait to experience it!!”

From Richard F.: “The live cam provides a wonderful tool to watch the flowering progress 24/7. Thank you for this initiative.”

From Chicago Catt: “It’s fascinating. Thank you for bringing this to Chicago!”

From Marjorie R.: “The anticipation is killing me! I’m going to be one of those people showing up at 2 a.m. I have been watching the webcam online every day at 2 a.m. to check on him!”

From Nicole R.: “Tim, I need to know: Are you sleeping with Spike these days? …Please assure us you are there, encouraging it, protecting it, and maybe even hugging it from time to time.”

From Heeyoung K.: “Dear Tim, First of all, I was amazed how you and your team turned Spike’s sad ‘failure’ to bloom into (an) even more wonderful learning experience with heartwarming support from so many people. I would say that was (the most) monumental event that has ever happened to a ‘mere’ plant :).”

From Lynn Q.: “Even though Spike didn’t bloom as we all hoped…the whole ‘Spike experience’ orchestrated by the Garden and all of the specialists working with Spike was just fantastic. I loved learning about these plants through frequent visits and reading the information on the website. Best of all was the opportunity to monitor growth through the live cam: we viewed Spike from time to time at home. Thus, I write to thank you and encourage you on the next efforts with these amazing plants!”

Thanks to all who wrote and reached out to me during Spike’s time on display. From myself and all of us at the Garden, we simply can’t thank you enough.

The silver lining in the story of Spike is that we have more titans to come. Seven other Amorphophallus titanum plants are in various stages of leaf, dormancy, and growth in our production area, and sooner or later another will be on display for you all to come and experience. Keep checking our website for updates on these rare and unusual plants.

The corpse flower will return in the future…and so will “Titan Tim.”


©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org