If the smell of rotting meat wafts from 71-year-old Cal Beaver’s Mandarin home, it’s not a decomposing body. It’s the corpse plant.
Or more scientifically the Amorphophallus titanum, an exotic plant found in Sumatra Indonesia that usually won’t flower until it weighs about 40 pounds, Beaver said. He said the corpse plant can grow as large as 9-feet tall. He has two of the flowers, both about 4-feet tall. And they are both blooming after about 12 years of diligent care.
“It smells like rotting meat,” Beaver says.
The deceptive process brings insects looking for dead flesh to the source of the smell. The plant has both male and female parts, but it also needs pollen from a second plant before it can reproduce, Beaver said. That’s where the bugs come into the process. Usually in the business of decomposition, things like blowflies help spark new life during the 17 hours the corpse plant is in bloom.
Beaver said he believes his corpse plants are the only ones in Jacksonville that aren’t owned by the Jacksonville Zoo. Beaver has four small greenhouses in his back yard. He’s been growing plants for about 45 years, he said.
It started in 1968 when he was in the Navy and stationed in California. During his three year deployment there he acquired about 2,000 plants, mostly cactus and succulent plants, which are plants with thick and fleshy leaves.
He remembers loading up a trailer and moving back to Jacksonville. He hasn’t stopped growing things since.
He said universities display corpse plants, usually to long lines of people with some wearing gas masks to cover the smell.
Beaver chuckled when thinking about the long lines of people with some gagging. The scent, he said, only travels about 10 feet.
“It’s not that bad,” he said.
Derek Gilliam: (904) 359-4619