A Trip to the Muttart Conservatory in Edmonton Alberta
Hundreds of people are standing in line in the chill air, some waiting as long as two hours. The line snakes through the courtyard, down the sidewalk and on through the parking lot. As the hours go by, the line continues to grow longer.
The parking lot has been full all day. Residential streets are lined with cars. Nearby venues offer up their own parking lots to the public. They are full, too, as people cheerfully trek several blocks to join the line.
Everywhere you look, there are cameras - camera phones, pocket sized point and shoots, high end DSLRs. Some people are clearly professional photographers, there to record the event.
What is it that has brought so many people of all ages, ready and willing to stand in line for hours? Some local celebrity? Some rare event?
Yes. Sort of.
These are all people waiting in line to see Putrella at the Muttart Conservatory.
Just who - or should I say "what" - is Putrella?
Putrella is a corpse flower, and these photos were taken on the day it bloomed. The Muttart Conservatory had been posting photos of Putrella daily on their facebook page as it surged anywhere from 4-8 inches a night, reaching a final height of about 7'9". With a window of only 24 hours, people eagerly awaited news that it was finally blooming. The announcement was finally made on April 22, 2013. The conservatory even announced extended hours so more people could take in this once in a lifetime opportunity!
My daughters and I were among those who visited Putrella, where I took the photos you see here. This was an event we did not want to miss!
Thankfully, this was the line when we arrived. We thought this was a long at first!
Putrella draws a crowd!
We are fortunate enough to live fairly close to the Muttart Conservatory - just a half hour or so to take a pedestrian bridge across the North Saskatchewan River - so we didn't have to try and find a parking spot or take a bus.
People had already been coming to the Conservatory all day. The Conservatory staff had things well organized. Staff processed admissions as quickly as they could, and there were volunteers everywhere. Only 40 people were allowed into the Tropical Pyramid, Putrella's home, at a time. When we saw how many people were already waiting, we were prepared to be there for the long haul, but things actually went rather quickly!
Unlike the other pyramids, once inside, visitors were guided one way through the paths to where Putrella waited in all its glory. This was not the trip for our usual dallying around to take photos!
A professional photographer setting up inside the Tropical Pyramid, near Putrella
Our first clear view of Putrella
Visitors were encouraged to gather closely around Putrella, by a Conservatory staff member that you can see standing next to Putrella. The Tropical Pyramid was kept especially hot and humid to encourage Putrella's growth. As we drew closer, my camera lens promptly steamed right up, leading to some very dramatic photos!
At this point, I was just taking as many photos as I could (after digging out a lens cloth to clear my lens!). I figured if even just 50% of my photos turned out, I'd be doing all right!
Once we were gathered around, the staff member told us about Putrella. One of the first things she commented on was the lack of odour! The corpse flower is known for reeking like rotting flesh, yet there was almost no smell at all, and nothing unpleasant.
It turns out that the smell is strongest at night, when the flies that are needed to pollinate corpse flowers are out and can be attracted to it. We were told that when staff first arrived at 6am, the stench as so strong, some felt like they were going to vomit! Gas masks were even used. Our guide said that the odour was still very strong when she arrived at 10am, and continued to lessen throughout the day. Quite a few people were quite disappointed at the lack of smell!
Photos of PutrellaClick thumbnail to view full-size
Putrella and Corpse Flower Facts - Amorphophallus Titanum
The corpse flower's proper name is Amorphophallus Titanum. This Greek name is derived from the words amorphos, which means misshapen or without form, phallos, which means penis, and titan, or giant. It is also known as the carrion flower, because of its rotting meat smell.
The only place the corpse flower grows naturally is Sumatra, where it is known by the name bunga bungkai. Bunga is the word for flower and bangkai means cadaver or corpse.
It is the largest flower in the world.
The tallest corpse flower recorded was more than 10 feet, 2 inches tall.
It is both male and female, but cannot self pollinate. The female part blooms first, then the male part a day or two later.
As it blooms, the spadix, which is full of pollen, becomes as warm as a living human body; about 36C.
Amorphophallus Titanum is pollinated by carrion-eating beetles and flesh flies that are attracted to the smell. At first, these insects are trapped by the slippery sides of the spathe. While trapped they become covered in pollen. As the bloom dies back, the insects can free themselves and go on to pollinate other corpse flowers.
Because there are no other corpse flowers around to pollinate with, the staff at Muttart plan to cut into Putrella's spathe on the second day of blooming to access the male flowers and collect pollen. They will then store the pollen in a glass, airtight container to be frozen for future pollination.
Corpse flowers bloom only once every 30-40 years, over 2-4 days.
Putrella is the first amorphophallus titanum to flower in Western Canada.
The corpse flower grows out of a giant corm, a sort of tuber, that is hidden below ground. When Putrella's corm arrived at the Muttart Conservatory in August, 2012, it weighed 275 pounds!*
After the flower dies back, a single leaf will grow from the corm on a tall stalk that branches out at the top, looking like a tall tree. It can reach up to 20 feet high and 16 feet across. The leaf lasts only about a year, and a new one replaces it.
Once finished blooming and enough energy is stored, the corm will become dormant for several months, then the process begins again.
*note: on the Muttart facebook page, it said the corm weighed 275 pounds, however in an interview with the National Post, we are told it weighed 225 pounds.
Visitors had a chance to take some quick photos, then it was time to leave for the next group to come in.
About the Muttart Conservatory
Since moving to Edmonton, the Muttart Conservatory has become one of our favourite places to visit. Especially with cameras! It has also seen some major changes - the photo above was taken during a special passholder's grand opening held after having been closed for about a year for renovations. The fountain in the foreground was one of the new additions. Designed by Canadian architect, Peter Hemingway, it officially opened in September of 1976 and cost $2 million to build.
The Muttart Conservatory is made up of 4 large pyramid shaped greenhouses, each with a different climatic theme. Three of them are the Tropical, Temperate and Arid pyramids. The fourth is a feature pyramid that changes every few months. There is a fifth pyramid skylight above the central foyer. They frequently post photos and information on their facebook page.
These botanical gardens also have three city operated greenhouses, which have regular public tours in the summer, and extensive grounds with more gardens and public art. The facility is owned and operated by the City of Edmonton. It is a favourite place for wedding photography, with good reason! It is truly beautiful.
The Temperate Pyramid
This is the pyramid that most closely matches our local climate. It is temperature controlled to match the seasons, allowing plants to go dormant, which means that visiting here in the winter requires a parka! There are a number of water features, including a koi pond. Insects are included in the eco-system - one year, we happened to visit just after they'd released thousands of ladybugs! - and sometimes even birds.
The Temperate Pyramid GalleryClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Arid Pyramid
The Arid Zone pyramid is my personal favourite for photography. There are so many interesting colours and textures! It houses some of the biggest cacti and Jade Trees I've ever seen. There are plants here from five different continents, with fluctuating day and night temperature controls to match those found in dry, harsh climates.
The Arid Pyramid GalleryClick thumbnail to view full-size
The displays in this pyramid changes every few months and are designed around various themes. At the time of our visit, it was filled with different varieties of daffodils (and other flowers) for the 7th annual Cancer Society show, dedicated to cancer survivors and in memory of loved ones who have passed.
Another flower in the Feature Pyramid - a great place to indulge in some macro photography!
Before we left, there was more to see and do!
After seeing Putrella in the Tropical Pyramid, then going through the other pyramids as well, we came out to find the central area just as full of people as before. While my younger daughter was picking out a plant to buy, a pair of fiddlers came to entertain the crowd.
While my daughter was paying for her plant at the gift shop, which has some lovely and unique items in it, my other daughter went on to the restaurant to wait for us. The Culina at the Muttart is normally closed earlier, but since the Conservatory was open late for all the people coming to see Putrella, they were still available to buy drinks and pastries. During regular hours, however, the Culina has a unique menu featuring foods from local producers. Visitors can access both the gift shop and the Culina without having to also pay admission to go into the pyramids.
As we sat with our drinks, we were amazed at how many people we saw still coming in to see Putrella. We were even more amazed when we went outside and saw how far the line had grown! At 9pm, the Conservatory put the word out that, unless people were already in line, they shouldn't come at all, and to come back the next day. They had already extended their closing time from 5pm to 11pm, and with so many people in line, new comers would not get a chance to get in before closing time.
The line when we left
What do you think of Putrella, the Corpse Flower?
Would you be willing to stand in line to see Putrella?
Is there a conservatory in your area that you like to visit? Do they have a corpse flower? Have you seen one before yourself? Feel free to share!