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Monday, July 6, 2009

Cabbage? Farts? Cabbage Farts? SFSU's Reticent Corpse Flower Finally Blooms, Sparks Debate as to What Vile Things it Smells Like.

Posted By on Mon, Jul 6, 2009 at 7:30 AM

The corpse flower actually emits some of the compounds secreted by decaying flesh -- as San Franciscan Dana Davis could assure you - JOE ESKENAZI
  • Joe Eskenazi
  • The corpse flower actually emits some of the compounds secreted by decaying flesh -- as San Franciscan Dana Davis could assure you

Click here for a full slideshow of Corpse Flower nastiness goodness.

After throwing off local experts by holding off with the goods for a full week, San Francisco State University's reticent corpse flower burst into bloom on July 4, with a pungent, patriotic display. The fetid odor permeated all four rooms of the SFSU greenhouse, said greenhouse manager Martin Grantham -- and even had passers-by outside and hundreds of feet downwind sniffing the air quizzically and blaming one another for social faux-pas they did not commit.

Grantham later learned that the compounds the plant produces to emit its signature vile odor -- cadaverine and putrescine -- are actually the very chemicals emitted by decaying flesh. They're also mild toxins and all of his greenhouse assistants have succumbed to headaches (and your author is in the midst of haze right now as well).

Three hundred or more people filed through the SFSU greenhouse to get a whiff of the odoriferous plant's first bloom -- which is impressive, as the corpse flower is housed in a cramped corner of a packed room that can only comfortably accommodate about half a person. Visitors were invited to write down what nauseating odor they felt the corpse flower's emissions resembled; suggestions included "A dead rat I found in the trash," "fish," "trash juice," "compost/trash," "vomit," "rotting cabbage," and "my pants." Bet that guy's popular.

click to enlarge Martin Grantham and his 'baby' - JOE ESKENAZI
  • Joe Eskenazi
  • Martin Grantham and his 'baby'
The delayed bloom was long-awaited by Grantham, who has been taking care of the 14-year-old corpse flower for a decade. Experts at both U.C. Berkeley and U.C. Davis were proven wrong when they predicted imminent blooms based on color changes or other esoterica. Next time -- and it will be at least two years and possibly decades before the SFSU flower blooms again -- Grantham or his successor will know that this particular plant tends to bloom around a day and a half after emitting an odor eerily reminiscent of Nestle Quik cocoa powder.

Grantham's skill as a horticulturalist will be put to the test -- as corpse flowers are vulnerable and often die after expending vast amounts of energy to execute their rare blooms. The greenhouse manager intentionally did not allow the corpse flower to pollinate this time around; he'd rather it put its energy into growing larger instead of reproducing. SFSU's flower is around three feet tall -- though some have reached 12 feet in nature (imagine the stink emanating from that -- truly the corpse flower resembles the star of a science fiction film about vegetation shot from space by malevolent aliens intent on wiping us out via the smell of that guy's pants).

Smiling through the stink, a weary looking Grantham seemed relieved: "Fourteen years!" he said. "This is my baby."


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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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