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'Disgustingly beautiful' corpse flower draws crowds to botanical gardens

Morty the corpse flower has become Morty the unpredictable.

After blooming around 10 p.m. Sunday, the flower was expected to open up on Monday to reveal a deep burgundy color and emit a hold-your-nose smell resembling a rotting corpse.

The flower – its actual name is Amorphophallus titanum – got off to a good start at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens early Monday morning. The flower's spaeth was opening, and flies attested to the emerging smell.

"It's disgustingly beautiful," said Erin Grajek, marketing director for the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens.

But, by Monday afternoon, the flower had closed – and the smell was hit-or-miss – for the large numbers of people flocking for a glimpse, and a scent.

"I'm disappointed because I wanted to see it open, and I'm not getting the full aroma," Michelle Cutler of Niagara Falls said.

Nonetheless, Cutler planned to tell others about it.

"I can say I saw it," she said. "I will put pictures on social media, because that's what you do."

Terry Todoroff, of Cheektowaga, came because he missed Morty four years ago, but was disappointed the plant hadn't fully bloomed.

"I'm getting just a small whiff," he said. "It's underwhelming right now."

But Gerald Mead found the whole experience amusing – and well worth it.

"This is the equivalent of botanical performance art," he laughed. "I didn't come to see it the last time, and I thought it's one of those things you have to be there to experience. It's almost like getting a tee-shirt that says, 'I was there.' "

Mead said Morty looks impressive, even if the plant stands 4 feet 8 inches, compared to 7 feet 8 inches four years ago.

"You don't expect a flower of that proportion," he said, adding that the smell had made him "a little nauseous."

"You can discern that the plant has this offensive smell," Mead added.

Ordinarily, corpse flowers, native to the rainforests of Sumatra and Indonesia, bloom every 7 to 10 years. It sends off a large leaf to absorb energy that the plant then stores. The leaf last grew in October 2015. It may do that several times before a flower blooms again.

That's what staff thought was first happening with the plant, given the short time period from when it bloomed last.

"We're all a little caught off guard," Grajek said. "They're weird plants and you're dealing with Mother Nature. She's in charge. I don't know that there is a textbook behavior for these guys, especially since it's a botanical garden and we're in Buffalo, and it's not 90 degrees and humid every day."

The clock is ticking on Morty – since the flower and full stench is supposed to occur in a 24- to 48-hour time period. But that may no longer be part of the playbook this time around.

"He's not following everything we've learned about him," said Kristin Pochopin, director of horticulture. "Nature is telling us he's going to do what he's going to do and we're just here for the ride. Stay tuned."

Botanical Gardens Chief Executive Officer David Swarts said the crowds on Monday were indicative of the public's considerable interest in the corpse flower.

"This is 10 times greater than what we would get on a typical day," Swarts said, of the afternoon crowd.

"This is kind of the Super Bowl for us," Grajek said, noting the last time Morty bloomed, in 2014, set a Botanical Gardens attendance record. "To have such a really cool plant in our collection that people want to smell the stench of is just weird, and we love that.

"There seriously hasn't been a day since 2014 that someone hasn't asked about Morty. Now's their chance to see him."

Hours to see the corpse flower have been extended until 11 p.m. Monday and Tuesday to accommodate viewers.

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