Amorphophallus titanum

Commonly called the "Corpse flower"

Bloomed Monday, August 2, 1999

This report written 1500 August 2, 1999

It's called the Corpse flower because it is propagated by carrion flies, so it exudes an odor intended to attract them. You may imagine what it smells like. The scientific name is Amorphophallus titanum, which means exactly what you think it means. Details about the plant can be found at the Huntington Library; the specific page is TitanArum. They have not only facts, but a good series of pictures, some but not all better than mine, which raises the question of why I bother to put up my own.

Mostly I've done it because we went out there three times, stood in long lines, and maybe I can convey a bit of that experience and maybe not. I'm glad I went instead of merely looking at the web site.


The first thing to note is that this is only the 11th blooming of this species in the United States, the first in California, and one of the very few outdoor displays in the western world. The plant isn't all that rare in Sumatra, but going to Sumatra isn't easy. Among other things, the Malay pirates are back, and piracy is so series in that area that the US Navy is putting Marines aboard seemingly unarmed freighters. It's a lot safer to go to Pasadena (more strictly, san Marino, see below).

Secondly, from our view anyway, what this really did was make us aware again of the Huntington Library, which is a wonderful resource that we had nearly forgotten; we hadn't been out there in nearly 20 years, which is ridiculous. I have had a scholar's access to the Huntington Library, but I hadn't used it in decades; but given that The Feathersnake Trilogy (or whatever we decide to call it) takes place in Meso-America with connections (through Atlantis) to Egypt and the Near East and there are some good materials relating to that at the Huntington, I'll renew those credentials. I already joined the Huntington support group, a good investment: the lines for non-members today were enormous, and I've just learned (1430 2 August) that they had to close the Huntington because of the crowds. Apparently there is a maximum capacity...

So: herewith some pictures and impressions. As usual, click on the picture to get a larger one. Fair warning: some of these images are at Super High Quality which is 2 megapixels, and will take some time to download.

We first heard about this on July 26 from Niven's nephews. They planned to go out the next day, and we thought we'd do that too. We hadn't been to the Huntington in decades. The Huntington Library was once a private home in San Marino. San Marino is a wealthy Los Angeles County city, older and with older money than upstart Beverly Hills. It was largely built by railroad money. The California Institute of Technology is located in Pasadena just to the north, but it was financed largely with San Marino money. There used to be a strict Cal Tech rule: students could cut up all they wanted in Pasadena, and while there might be civil and criminal penalties, Cal Tech didn't care; but student pranks (and with Cal Tech students those can be elaborate, brilliantly conceived, and bizarre) were strictly forbidden in San Marino. Period. End of discussion. Get caught out of line in San Marino and you'd be expelled.

Forest Lawn was built in part with San Marino money, and The Founder (he liked to call himself that) invented a number of orders of merit, usually having 13 members, 12 of whom would be distinguished scientists and scholars and the 13th being himself. That's for another time.

The Huntington Library and Gardens is a posh museum, library, gardens, and all around pleasant place. The most famous painting there is The Blue Boy but there are many other works almost as well known. It is also a serious scholarly resource. There's a Gutenberg Bible. While Roberta and I hadn't been there for decades, last year we did go to the Curator's Home for a party (courtesy of the opera outfit). That is the old gatehouse of the mansion, and would itself be considered a mansion in an upstart place like Beverly Hills.

So we went out on the news that the plant was to bloom on July 28. At that time not many people had ever heard of it.



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First view. Not open. Still pretty amazing.

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That's Roberta over on the other side.

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Roberta was fascinated by this statue.

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As well as by this very powerful pooch

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This is the strangest pine tree I have ever seen

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It really is a pine tree.

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Here it is in all its glory

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The Huntington spice gardens. Spices and herbs with magical properties play a big part in The Burning City, so we found this interesting.

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One of my favorite lines: In Caesar and Cleopatra, Caesar tells young Ptolemy "Always take a throne when it is offered to you." So I do.

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We went out again Sunday August 1; a Japanese exchange student was studying for his Novell certificate; he recognized me from Nikkei Byte. Flattering...

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Monday, August 2: the lines literally began in Pasadena and stretched into San Marino. This is the line after you get inside the library grounds. Amazing.

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Getting closer: we were early, had Member passes to get into the grounds, and still had half an hour wait to get to this point.

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So here it is, more or less opened. I gather it opens further if you wait, but with those lines you can't. If you want to see it open further, go to the Huntington site...

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From a different angle. The people are as interesting as the plant.

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More long lines as we leave.

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Roberta, a nice fountain, the Library, and no crowds: this is the way it usually is at the Huntington when there's no corpse flower in bloom.

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The border: we're in San Marino going home. Note that the line reaches far into Pasadena.

SO much for Amorphophallus titanum...