Endangered Wally the corpse flower delights garden enthusiasts with its roadkill scent

Bloomington, Indiana, June 28, 2023: Wally, a corpse plant in the Indiana University greenhouse, blooms on June 28, 2023, in Bloomington, Indiana. A woman who smelled the flower wrinkled her nose afterward and said it smells like her garbage can. (Photo by Jeremy Hogan/The Bloomingtonian)

By Sade Ajishegiri – Special to the Bloomingtonian

Wally the corpse flower made a public appearance for the second time ever at the IU Biology Greenhouse, where during a brief bloom June 27—July 1,  the rare plant’s roadkill scent enticed not just insects, but also people from across the state.

Wally last bloomed in the midst of the pandemic in December 2020. Only the greenhouse staff saw it, and besides a few facebook pictures they kept it to themselves.

The Corpse Flower, or Titan Arum, is an oddity in many ways. It can grow to 12 feet, the statuesque spadix erupting from the center of the frilly reddish-purple flower-like structure. The spadix heats to about the same temperature as a human body, its rotten smell luring carrion beetles and flesh flies looking for a place to lay eggs.

Building facilities manager Bryan Walters has taken care of the Wally for 20 years, since it was a corm—a rounded underground stem. It was named after late chief botanical gardener, Hugh Wallace “Wally” Scales.

“Wally’s our novelty plant,” Walters said. “It gets people here in Bloomington.” 

For universities and botanical gardens across the country, a resident corpse flower draws visitors from all over. The flower is listed as endangered, with only an estimated 1,000 mature specimens left in its native Sumatra, Indonesia due to deforestation and land degradation. The flower’s grisly name, bizarre appearance and pungent smell make it a must-see for anyone interested in botany.

The corpse flower even has groupies. When Wally first bloomed in 2016, thousands flocked to see it, and Walters remembers a group of Titan Arum enthusiasts who made their way across the country to catch every bloom they could, hitting St. Louis, Chicago and Bloomington.

The gardener is glad when novelty plants like Wally draw people in. He hopes people see the flower and understand that taking care of the environment will ensure plants like it can survive. 

“Eventually, when they’re all gone, this would be like a zoo,” Walters said. “If this were the only one here, it’d be like watching a caged animal.”

Rate this post

Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating 5 / 5. Vote count: 3

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.

Liked it? Take a second to support The Bloomingtonian on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!