A lighter view…Not your average flower child

A lighter view…Not your average flower child

By Karen Morris

By Karen M. Morris

Freelance Writer

When word got out that Titan Arum was opening Friday, the whole town went crazier than a mouse in an outhouse.

Distinguished college professors paraded around campus holding up posters of their favorite Titan Arum, media outlets gave updates every five minutes, and lines of people started popping up like spots on a Dalmatian. I hadn’t seen a groundswell of this magnitude since the Rolling Stones announced they were going on tour.

So, when my neighbor, Jane, asked if I wanted to go see the Titan Arum, I gave her a thumbs up. Well, you can imagine my surprise when I discovered the Titan Arum was not the sequel to the Titanic, as I had surmised, but an eight-foot-tall flower from Sumatra that looks like an ear of corn–without the kernels. Affectionately known as the “corpse flower,” this stinker’s claim to fame was its ability to attract flies from 40 miles away with a smell capable of melting your teeth.

Jane parked the van, I fed the meter and then we hiked to the end of a line long enough to circle the equator–twice. As we shuffled along the sidewalk, volunteers passed out water in paper cups. Jane saved hers in case she got thirsty and wanted more water. I bit the end off mine and used it as a bullhorn, yelling “Move it along, people”.

What was all the fuss? Was this one of those legendary trees that my parents were always talking about? Had someone finally located a tree that grew money? NO…these people were absolutely giggly about a plant that emitted the scent of dead fish, had one giant leaf and bloomed for two days every 10-20 years. It didn’t even produce pocket change.

If this crowd really wanted an adventure, they should spend a couple of hours with my son’s gym suit. In just one visit, they could experience permanent olfactory nerve damage, difficulty breathing and possible loss of consciousness–a neurological trifecta.

There were two types of people in line–those with cell phones and everybody else. To pass the time, the cell phone people started dialing up anyone who’d answer. They’d engage in cutting-edge conversations like: ”Guess where I am? Nope. Guess again. Nope. Keep guessing. It’s Kathy Buchwald…we went to day camp together in 5th grade. Sooo…guess where I am.”

The non-cell phone people discussed various pollination methods, pointed out the surrounding fauna by their Latin names and read excerpts from dictionaries. I stared into the sun. One woman held up a chart with the parts of the plant labeled. There was the leaf, fruit, spathe and a 170-pound tuber known as the spadix. I especially liked the spadix. It’s so hard to find a good “X” word for Scrabble.

Botanists were stationed along the line to give pertinent facts about Titan. One fellow was beaming like a new father as he gave the age, daily growth rate and internal temperature of Titan. He piqued my curiosity and stirred a sense of wonder. I wondered: How do you take a plant’s temperature? Axillary or rectal? How come plants don’t have names derived from Pig Latin? How long is this line…really? Why didn’t I bring a cell phone? Will Jane stop on the way home for a café latte? Will she remember where we parked the car?”

My deep thoughts were interrupted when I saw my neighbor, Deter Dinkens. I wasn’t surprised to see him here. Deter’s yard looks like an advertisement for a seed catalogue. When we first met, he talked so much about cuttings, transplants and manure, I thought he was a surgeon. Deter was the only one to come and help me when my planting bed died. He told me to dispose of the plants immediately…they were ragweed.

He’s watched me kill every kind of flower possible–plastic, silk, origami. And he has never shunned me. Except when I offered to plant sit.

“What are you doing here, Karen?” Deter asked, giving me a hug. “I thought you’d be at home killing your lawn. I didn’t know you were a fan of Amorphophallus titanum.”

“Amo what?” I hugged back, laughing. “I saw all of these people and thought it was election day. There better be a voting booth at the end of this line.”

Before we crossed the threshold of Titan’s inner sanctum, we were instructed not to touch the flower. Deter squeezed my hand, Jane picked my paper cup up off the ground and together we approached the “corpse flower.”

Titan Arum was amazing…even to a person who thinks botany is a clothing line. I managed to hold back from hugging it, but I couldn’t resist buying a T-shirt that said “Titan Arum…It’ll take your breath away.” And it did.

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