Something Really Stinks at Orange Coast College

Orange Coast College has had a strange resident living on its campus for more than 10 years. Little Dougie, an Amorphophallus titanum plant, has been at the school since 2006. However, people made a big stink about it when it bloomed this past June.

 

The endangered plant is referred to as a corpse flower because of its terrible stench. The aroma has been likened to that of rotting meat or a dead body. The overpowering reek attracted more than 500 people to the Costa Mesa college at the end of June, 2017.

 

Most people will never see or smell a corpse flower in their lifetime. The Horticultural Department at Orange Coast College is changing that for local residents, though. Little Dougie was on display at the administration building for a few days this summer. The same thing happened the last time the plant bloomed, in 2014.

 

At that time, the plant was named Little John. Its name was changed to honor Doug Bennet, the executive director of the Orange Coast College Foundation. The OCC Foundation has supported the college since 1985 by organizing fundraising campaigns that have brought in more than $90 million worth of donations. Funds have gone to constructing and renovating several school facilities, including the Harry and Grace Steele Children’s Center, Sailing Center and Computing Center.

 

Corpse flowers usually don’t bloom until they’re mature. They typically start blooming when they’re about 10 years old, and then they flower every few years. The older they get, the larger they grow. During their rapid growth period, some say that you can almost see the plant grow before your eyes. Little Dougie is about 5 feet tall and weighs over 30 pounds. Some corpse flowers have weighed in at 200 pounds.

 

Why do they smell so terrible? The flower needs to attract pollinators so that it can reproduce. The plant usually blooms in the afternoon, and the stench is strongest throughout the night. Dung beetles, flies and other carnivorous insects pollinate the plant as they enter it. These bugs usually stick to roadkill and dead animals. The flower’s color and smell imitate lifeless flesh to draw in the insects.

 

The flower’s dark burgundy color looks like blood. The scent tells the bugs that this might be a source of food. The plant can even change temperature, warming itself to 98 degrees Fahrenheit to trick the pollinators.

 

The flies eventually realize that they can’t eat the plant. By that time, they fly off, but they retain pollen on their legs and move to the next plant. This helps the species propagate. After the plant has been pollinated, the flower closes for several years before blooming again. It only stinks for a day or two.

 

With only one plant at the school, flies don’t do much to help with reproduction. The specialists in the Horticultural department must pollinate the plant by hand.

 

In the past, the school has kept the flowering plant in a greenhouse, which trapped the odors and made it difficult to put on display. It took a strong stomach to enter the room that housed the plant. This year, Orange Coast College chose to exhibit the corpse flower outdoors. This allowed visitors to get closer than ever before. However, some still had to hold their breath as they stood next to the flower and snapped photos.

 

Botanists have analyzed the odor emitted by the plant. Chemically, the smell contains similar components to those in the aromas of cooked onions, limburger cheese, garlic, decomposing fish, sweaty socks, jasmine, mothballs, Chloraseptic and human feces. It’s not something that you want to hang around for very long.

 

Still, the blooms are impressive. They look like something out of the era of the dinosaurs. The large, bell-shaped spathe looks like a large flower with a green exterior and wine-colored petals. However, it’s actually the protective sheath for the male and female flowers, which grow on the long spadix that rises from the center of the spathe. After the plant blooms, a large leaf grows around the spadix to protect it until it’s time for the next pollination.

 

The plant grows wild in the Indonesian rainforests on the island of Sumatra. It was first discovered by an Italian botanist in the late 1800s. As the Sumatran forests are cleared for timber and the development of palm plantations, the flower’s survival is being threatened.

 

The first cultivated corpse flower bloomed in London in 1889. Between that year and 2008, only 157 plants had bloomed in cultivation. In 2016, though, seven corpse plants across the U.S. flowered almost simultaneously, boggling botanists. Experts say that these plants may share genes. Another theory is that the plants are more popular now. More plants equal more blooms.

 

The event is still somewhat rare, however. People who get the opportunity to see the corpse flower in bloom should take advantage of it when they can. They may never have the chance again.

 

The Horticultural Department at Orange Coast College hopes to put the blooming plant on display in another few years. The department offers excellent programs for students who are entering or working in green industries. One of the department’s most notable events is the annual poinsettia sale. As part of the program, horticultural students help manage several greenhouses full of poinsettias, which is considered one of the hardest crops to grow.

 

Orange Coast College also offers more than 135 other programs. Its proximity to the gorgeous beaches of Southern California has helped the college develop an acclaimed public nautical program. Orange Coast College is the top-ranked community college for transfers to the University of California and California State. The fully-accredited school enrolls about 25,000 students each year and is the third-largest college in Orange County.

Learn more about Orange Coast College:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orange_Coast_College

https://www.yelp.com/biz/orange-coast-college-costa-mesa-2


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