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As the Big Island of Hawaii celebrated Earth Day and Easter, a special moment in agriculture occurred at the island’s free, government run zoo.
The long awaited blooming of the corpse flower at the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo and Gardens occurred, and it is believed to be a first for the state of Hawaii.
Normally the visitors to the Hilo zoo crowd the cages of the tiger or monkeys, but on Easter Sunday it was this rare amorphophallus titanum plant that was getting all the attention.
The plant has the largest unbranched inflorescence in the world, and takes many years to bloom. Once it does, it emits a foul stench like that of rotting flesh, which is how the plant gets its common nickname of corpse flower.
This is what the plant looked like last week (right), after it was anonymously donated to the zoo. The zookeepers were on alert, measuring the plant as it grew by inches every day, building energy for the big moment.
That moment occurred on Saturday, just as the zoo was closing, and by the next morning, word had already gotten out that the rare bloom was underway. A crowd gathered to witness the spectacle, and brave the smell.
Native to the rainforests of Sumatra in Indonesia, the corpse flower emits the rotten stench to attract carrion beetles, which in turn pollinate the plant.
As you can see, the flies were already buzzing around the plant on Sunday, as the bloom released what zookeepers described as a “pulse” of stench on a periodic basis.
But without Sumatran carrion beetles here in Hilo, how would the rare plant be pollinated?
Well, early Sunday morning zookeepers cut a small opening into female portion the flower in order to hand pollinate it, using pollen imported from New York. They will also extract pollen from the male portion of the flower in a few days.
The bloom lasts only a day or so before the plant dies back and collapses.