Uncle Fester debuts in leaf form at Bloedel Conservatory
Uncle Fester, the infamous titan arum or corpse flower (Amorphophallus titanum) is making a grand return to Bloedel Conservatory. Unlike in previous years, the plant will appear in a unique leaf form rather than its signature stinky bloom.
“We are delighted to welcome Uncle Fester back to Bloedel Conservatory," says Andrew Fleming, Superintendent at Bloedel Conservatory. “This will be the first time we display the titan arum at this stage of its life cycle.”
Uncle Fester, named by the public in a city-wide poll, made history by blooming for the first time in July 2018, and for a second time in August 2021. After two years of dormancy, the 14-year-old plant began to grow again, soaring to nearly a metre in just the last month. In the coming weeks, this pace will amplify, with daily growth reaching up to eight centimetres.
Most years, the titan arum yields a single, massive leaf. This leaf, which can reach several meters in height and resembles a small tree, is in fact a branched structure with many leaflets. Its primary function is photosynthesis. By absorbing sunlight, the leaf helps to store energy in the plant’s base, known as the corm, so it can produce a flower again in the future. After the first bloom, some titan arums may wait up to seven years to flower again, while others could bloom every two or three years.
“In the world of botany, the life cycle of the titan arum is a marvel. To witness its growth and transformation is remarkable," Andrew Fleming says. "We encourage the public to come and experience this botanical wonder for themselves.”
In its leaf state, the titan arum will not produce a scent. When in bloom, it emits a smell like rotting meat. The unique odor plays a vital ecological role, attracting pollinators like carrion beetles and flesh flies that feed on dead animals in the wild.
Originating from the equatorial rainforests of Sumatra, Indonesia, titan arums are known as bunga bangkai which means “corpse flower.” They are classified as "vulnerable" on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s list, with fewer than 1,000 plants left in their natural habitat.
Vancouver became one of the few North American cities to host this unique plant when the Bloedel Conservatory received Uncle Fester in 2016 from a North Carolina nursery. This acquisition was part of an international effort to propagate and conserve the titan arum. Through the sharing of plants, seeds and genetic material, botanical gardens across the world are working collaboratively to help conserve rare and endangered species.