By Tim Krohn
---- — ST. PETER — Roxanne Skogerboe's view of the famed corpse flower was short and not sweet.
She came in one door of the greenhouse at Gustavus Adolphus College, clasped her hand to her nose, sped past the big plant and shot out the other door.
"It's a cool thing, but I could have done without the smell," Skogerboe said. "I started gagging."
The rare Amorphophallus titanum plant, affectionately known as Perry, began its short blooming and odor display at Gustavus Thursday and will be mostly done by Friday night.
"It's very popular. We have people who come from all over Minnesota," said Brian O'Brien, a chemistry professor who cultivated the plant in 1998 after getting seeds from a San Francisco physician.
The plant bloomed for the first time in 2007. Depending on the variety, the flowers bloom only every three to 10 years. More than 7,000 people came to campus during Perry’s maiden bloom and 5,000 viewed it in 2010.
Bruce and Linda Ellefson of St. Peter came to see the plant for the first time, drawn by their son, Adam, who is a Gustavus student who helps in the greenhouse and was one of the hosts Thursday.
"The smell's not as bad as I thought it would be. It's not overwhelmingly horrible," Bruce Ellefson said. "It's ironic it bloomed on Halloween. It's very appropriate."
O'Brien said there was one benefit to the plant blooming in late October. "Last time it bloomed in July and we had just hundreds of flies in here laying eggs on it. They thought it was a big hunk of rotting meat."
After viewing the plant, visitors are invited to write in a book describing what they think it smelled like. Some of the observations: boiled cabbage, sauerkraut, poop, stinky shoes, road kill and a zombie.
The corpse flower is found naturally only in the tropical rainforests of Sumatra, Indonesia. With the largest unbranched inflorescence in the world, the corpse flower’s name comes from the repulsive scent it emits during the hours after it blooms.
Outside of Sumatra, O'Brien said there are probably a few hundred of the plants cultivated worldwide. The only others in Minnesota are at the Como Conservatory, plants given by Gustavus. He said deforestation for agriculture is threatening the plant.
The flower will live for about 40 years and is not particularly difficult to grow, O'Brien said. "Other than it really takes a lot of space."
Gustavus has a few other corpse plants started with blooming stages uncertain. "We'll probably have an open house whenever one blooms," O'Brien said. "People like seeing them."
Visiting hours for the public continue from 12-8 p.m. Friday. It is in the Alfred Nobel Hall of Science on the third floor.
A live webcam of the flower can be found at: gustavus.edu/biology/titanarum/.