The thrill is gone: Como Park corpse flower closes, ending bloom early

A person selfies in front of a large potted flower
Visitors take selfies with “Horace” the corpse flower at the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory in St. Paul on Thursday, May 23, 2024.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Updated: 12:05 p.m.

The 20,000 people who flocked to Como Park Zoo and Conservatory in St. Paul on Thursday and waited hours in line to see Horace the blooming corpse flower must be celebrating their good judgment. The flower closed back up overnight without fully blooming, ending the show surprisingly early. 

“As they say, all good things must come to an end. Horace has finished blooming, and the smell has faded,” Como Park said Friday.

A close up of a large unfurling flower blossom
“Horace” the corpse flower begins to bloom at the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory in St. Paul on Thursday, May 23, 2024.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

The corpse flower (Amorphophallus titanum), affectionately named “Horace” after the landscape architect Horace Cleveland who designed Como Park, was blooming for the first time since arriving at Como in 2019.

“We’ll be moving him back behind the scenes at the end of today (Friday), where he’ll rest until the next bloom, likely years from now,” the park said.

Why did the corpse flower close early?

The flower started unfurling around 7 a.m. Thursday and was as open as it was going to get within a few hours. The stink is strongest in the first 12 to 24 hours, although the bloom and possibly a lingering smell usually remain for a couple of days longer.

The livestream shows that the bloom remained tight before it began closing back up overnight. 

For comparison, a timelapse video from the United States Botanic Garden shows a corpse flower splaying open, displaying a broad, purple interior before closing and eventually collapsing.

So, why did the show end early? Horace was thrown off by night lighting inside the conservatory, according to Jen Love, the horticulturist who raised Horace.

“These corpse flowers are sort of programmed to have a normal eight hours of darkness at night and without that they can sort of behave differently than you would expect if they had their normal dark nights and so that’s exactly what we saw,” Love said.

She said other gardens have documented the same phenomenon of corpse flowers blooming several days late and not fully opening.

Love cut a square off of Horace’s exterior, or spathe, on Friday so that people can see the male and female flowers that pollinators visit inside.

Line still over an hour and a half Friday

The unanticipated turn of events (and some rain) didn’t stop people from visiting Friday — the line stretched down the sidewalk outside by 9:30 a.m., even though the park doesn’t open until 10 a.m.

Corpse flowers are known for the odor of rot they give off when they bloom and are incredibly rare — fewer than 1,000 individual plants remain in the wild, making witnessing its brief and malodorous bloom a rare opportunity.

Patric Richardson, who hosts HGTV’s “The Laundry Guy,” was among the Friday crowd.

“I got up very early this morning and got in line, waited an hour and a half — totally worth it,” he said. “When you get to see him up close, I mean, he’s huge! It was very exciting.”

Michele Travis and Steph Lee, who got in line before 9 a.m., also said it was worth the visit.

“I know some people were a little disappointed with how little he bloomed but I think he did a great job, and it was a little stinky so can’t imagine what it would be like for the full stink but I was pretty happy with it,” Travis said.

“I loved the colors on him, he’s just really beautiful,” Lee said.

Como Park saw 340 percent increase in visitors Thursday

Como Park’s foot traffic was up 340 percent compared with the average Thursday before Memorial Day, spokesperson Matt Reinartz told MPR News. 

people stand in line in a garden
The line to see the blooming corpse flower at Como Park Zoo and Conservatory in St. Paul wrapped through the conservatory and took more than two hours to get through on Thursday afternoon, May 23, 2024.
Feven Gerezgiher | MPR News

Some waited more than three hours in line to see the flower on Thursday. The park did extend its hours past 6 p.m. for viewing but ended up stopping the line at 4 p.m. and letting everyone in it see the flower, with the last visitors getting a whiff after 7:15 p.m., he said. 

When will Horace bloom again?

After blooming, corpse flowers collapse and go dormant.

The bloom of a corpse flower and the energy that produces it come from an underground stem called a corm.

The plant only blooms once it has stored enough energy in the corm and is in ideal warm and humid conditions, “making time between flowering unpredictable, spanning from a few years to more than a decade,” according to the U.S. Botanic Garden.

Still, there is some poetry to the brief experience: Horace bloomed under a full flower moon.

APTOPIX Greece Full Moon
The flower moon rises behind the ancient temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion, about 45 miles south of Athens, Greece, on Thursday, May 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
Petros Giannakouris/AP

Throughout Thursday, visitors described Horace’s smell as weird cheese, stinky feet, “like a garbage can had been sitting outside” and “like a porta potty,” although a couple of funeral directors said they were disappointed to learn it did not smell as strong as a real corpse. Still, flies did swarm the plant.

There’s always next time, Horace.

A corpse flower, partially open, stands in a large pot
“Horace” the corpse flower begins to bloom at the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory in St. Paul on Thursday, May 23, 2024.
Ben Hovland | MPR News
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