Titan VanCoug, the rare corpse flower at Washington State University Vancouver, began to open its leaves late Monday, releasing a stench as gnarly as its name promises.
The green leaves of Professor Steven R. Sylvester’s Amorphophallus titanum began to unfurl Monday afternoon, revealing its purple innards and an odor like dirty socks and rotting flesh. Dozens of curious onlookers visited late into the night to get a whiff of the massive plant, which looked like the great maw of a Demogorgon, the terrifying plant-beast from “Stranger Things.”
Sylvester, a professor of molecular bioscience, has been raising Titan VanCoug from seed for 17 years. This is the first time it’s bloomed. Sylvester was on his riding lawn mower when his wife came running toward him in the yard, waving his phone and delivering the news.
“I had to be careful not to speed here,” Sylvester said.
Onlookers seemed unfazed by the stink — though who knows how bad it could be by morning — and more thrilled to be part of the chance to see the bloom. Alex Pomraning, a biology student at WSU Vancouver, has been watching the plant’s steady growth from a nearby window. When the leaves starting opening, he grabbed his father, Don, to go back to campus.
“I’m the madman who wanted to come out at 9:30 p.m.,” Alex Pomraning said. His father didn’t mind.
“This is kind of a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Don Pomraning said.
Visiting the flower was also a family affair for Jon Anderson, a chemistry instructor at WSU Vancouver. He brought his wife, Rosa, son Malcolm, and parents, Sandra and Paul, with him. Rosa Anderson’s been eagerly awaiting the bloom since her husband started working at the school years ago.
“Listen, we deserve to see it,” she said.
And, noted Sandra Anderson, “it’s an absolutely perfect evening,” the full moon beaming down on the crowd. Corpse plants tend to like the full moon, Sylvester said, as though Titan needs any more mystical properties.
Monday’s climactic end capped a day of activity at the Salmon Creek campus. A steady flow of visitors wandered by to view the gigantic flower and talk to Sylvester. Topics of conversations flowed from what animals or insects will be attracted to the horrendous odor once the flower blooms to how the flower likes the Northwest weather.
Carol Ledford, from Gresham, Ore., and her friend Steven Brothers, who lives near campus, were among Monday’s visitors. Ledford said after she heard about the flower she called Brothers.
“Let’s go see that thing,” she said.
Both Ledford and Brothers said that they plan to keep tabs on Titan by watching the live stream hosted by WSU Vancouver on its YouTube channel. But they feel differently about coming back again.
“I wanted to make sure to see it before it blooms,” Ledford said. “I don’t want to smell it.”
Brothers, on the other hand, didn’t hesitate to say that he will return after the plant finishes blooming.
The corpse flower is on display just outside of the Science and Engineering Building, and campus will be open to the expected tens of thousands of visitors who will come to see and smell it.
“It’s great to see people on campus,” said WSU Vancouver Chancellor Mel Netzhammer, who joined the crowd late Monday. “This is just really joyful.”