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Coast To Coast

Coast To Coast

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Orange Coast College Horticulture Department basked in national attention this summer as it welcomed public to witness the blooming of the Amorphophallus titanum plant – commonly known as the corpse flower – in late June and early July.

More than 3,000 plant enthusiasts visited campus to take a whiff of the foul-smelling plant, and the event was featured on local media as well as news outlets throughout the country.

OCC horticulture instructor Joe Stead fielded questions from botanists from Michigan State University, the Missouri Botanical Garden and from plant specialists in Florida. KTLA Channel 5 featured Stead and the corpse flower in a newscast. OCC retirees who were visiting campus for the Emeritus Luncheon can be seen in the background.

OCC actually had three plants flowering, and the second blossom had the “biggest stink,” Stead reported. The third plant is on loan to Cal State Fullerton.

Stead collected pollen from “Little John,” named in honor of John Lenanton, a horticulture professor at OCC for more than 40 years. Last week he used it to pollinate Juanito, the second flowering plant in the Horticulture Department’s greenhouse.

Stead won’t know if his efforts were successful until next year, when seed pods could develop and he tries to sow seeds. “We have a good chance with Juanito,” which produced hundreds of tiny female flowers.

The plants have both male and female flowers, but they will not self-pollinate. The blossom’s strong odor works to attract pollinators in the jungle, Stead explained.

Juanito, confined in the campus greenhouse, produced a stronger odor than Little John. Stead compared it to a “really bad dumpster odor with a lot of rotten food, dirty diapers or something awful.”

At age 11, Little John is four to five feet tall and weighs in at 27 pounds. When fully mature, he could grow to 11 feet and 150 pounds, Stead said.

Blooming is a rare occurrence for the corpse flower; the last time it happened in Southern California was at Fullerton Arboretum in 2007. It could be decades before OCC’s plants bloom again.

The species is considered endangered, but OCC’s Horticulture Department, Huntington Botanical Gardens and Fullerton Arboretum are working together to propagate new plants.

Interested observers can also watch Little John in action on the OCC Horticulture Department webcam at