It’s happening again . . . Houston has itself another corpse flower that's set to bloom.
Out of the blue, the Houston Zoo revealed Monday that it has its own Amorphophallus titanum and it's estimating that the flower will open it stinky self this upcoming weekend. Rather than sugarcoat the corpse flower's trademark stench, which bares a remarkable similarity to rotting flesh, the zoo embraced the rare flower’s reputation, naming it Pewtunia.
You can view the flower in its current home in the zoo’s African Forest, the recently opened six-acre wooded habitat that features white rhinos, giraffes and a colony of chimpanzees. Horticultural experts will offer special talks at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. every day and field any questions guests have about the 19-pound, 35-inch Pewtunia.
Pewtunia bursts onto the Houston scene a little more than a year after Corpse Flower Lois took over the summer of 2010 in Houston, prompting the Houston Museum of Natural Science to stay open 24 hours a day, lines of curious, devoted onlookers to stretch out the doors and creating a Twitter superstar.
R ather than sugarcoat the corpse flower's trademark stench, which bares a remarkable similarity to rotting flesh, the zoo embraced the rare flower’s reputation, naming it Pewtina.
Native to the rainforests of Sumatra in western Indonesia, corpse flowers were originally cataloged for European science in 1878 by Italian naturalist Odoardo Beccari, whose new “discovery” turned out to produce the world’s largest unbranched inflorescence — a botanical term for the flowering part of a plant.
Also known as a carrion flower, a titan arum, and a voodoo lily, the corpse flower emits its potent smell to attract carcass-eating insect pollinators like the Indonesian carrion beetle and the blow fly. The odor is at its most powerful the 12 to 24 hours surrounding full bloom, at which time the flower maintains a temperature near 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, aiding the plant’s carcass-like illusion.
According to Houston Zoo horticultural manager Joe Williams (Hort Joe?), who oversees the Houston Zoo’s 55 acres of tropical landscape, it takes the corpse flower seven to 10 years to produce its first bloom, after seasons of creating only a bare stalk. At approximately 7 years of age, Pewtunia is clearly an early bloomer ( . . . sorry for the pun).
“We’ve had a few titan arums in the past,” Williams tells CultureMap. “But the Houston summers and winters are surprisingly too wet for the flower to bloom. Native plants of east Texas consume considerably more water, by comparison.”
With this summer’s drought, however, the Houston air proved far too arid, demanding that Pewtunia stay in a moisture-controlled greenhouse to get to its current advanced stage of bloom.
“In this phase, the corpse flower grows at a rate of four inches as day. It’s grown an inch just this morning to reach an even three feet,” says Williams, who purchased the rare plant in late spring from a Massachusetts horticultural center that holds the world record for growing the largest corpse flower, a plant measuring over six feet at 103 inches.
“We’re always looking for ways to bring people to the zoo. As horticultural manager, I seek out rare and exotic plants to enhance the visitor experience, to help them understand the different environments of the zoo’s population.”
Home to more than 6,000 animals representing more than 800 species, the Houston Zoo is delighted to reveal one of its most fascinating residents to date. Pewtunia is on view at the Koolookamba Cave along the Forest Walk just inside the African Forest.