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Rare flower blooms at Taylor

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GIANT LILY:Visitors to Taylor University’s greenhouse touch the titan lily Wednesday. The plant only blooms about every five years.
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ON DISPLAY: Taylor University professorElizabeth Hasenmyer, left, shows off the titan lily. The flower’s putrid smell has earned it the nickname corpse flower, since it smells rotten.

BY Sara Barker - sbarker@chronicle-tribune.com

What’s five feet tall and smells like a dead animal? The titan lily, of course.

The plant, nicknamed the corpse flower for its unique stench, is blooming for the first time in about six years at Taylor University’s greenhouse.

The rare plant is native to Sumatra and was brought to Taylor around 2001, greenhouse manager and professor Elizabeth Hasenmyer.

The plant, which towers above the others in the greenhouse, smells terrible for a reason – in Sumatra, pollinators’ diets include rotting animals, so the flower emits the same scent to attract flies.

It smells so bad, in fact, a custodian let faculty know they thought something had crawled inside the greenhouse and died.

The titan lily also raises its temperature to 98 degrees to further emulate a freshly dead piece of meat, something Hasenmyer said is unique to a handful of plants and could be studied in one of Taylor’s biology or horticulture classes.

Visitors, including Taylor faculty, students and community members, looked at the plant Wednesday near the end of its life when the bloom began to close. The bloom only stays for about 24-36 hours, so there was a narrow window for visitors to see the full lily.

“It makes me really happy that a plant is bringing the community together,” Hasenmyer said.

Those who see the plant in full bloom are in awe of its odd shape and life cycle, Jim Garringer, director of media relations at Taylor, said after viewing the titan lily Wednesday.

“There was just a sense of wonder,” Garringer said.

Hasenmyer said the visitors thought the plant was fit to be in a science fiction movie.

“It really does look like an alien,” Hasenmyer said.

The plant has previously bloomed twice before since Hasenmyer has been at Taylor: once in 2011 and again in 2012. However, she was on sabbatical and maternity leave for both times, so this is the first time she has seen it bloom.

“I actually thought it was going to be next year,” Hasenmyer said.

The titan lily isn’t the only plant not native to Indiana in the greenhouse. Orchids comprise the bulk of the collection, and species of small trees from Africa and desert rose are also on display.

In the future, Hasenmyer is hoping to create a class for non-biology majors at Taylor centered around the greenhouse to gain horticultural knowledge that will help students be better citizens.