“Phil,” a rare tropical plant that in cultivation typically blooms once every seven to 10 years, is set to put on a show just two years after its last bloom in 2019.
The secret to the plant’s second bloom? A nutrient-dense fertilizer, humid environment and slightly warmer Southern California winter, according to Cal State Long Beach Botanical Curator and Botany Technician Brian Thorson.
“I baby these plants,” Thorson said. “I know what they like.”
Phil is a corpse flower - also known as titan arum - that’s been carefully nurtured in a tropical greenhouse on campus. And nearly two years to the day, the plant is expected to open and release its well-documented rotten flesh stench.
“The truth is that a mature and healthy plant will actually bloom every other year,” Thorson said. “It is exceptional that Phil has bloomed after only two years. However, it’s not outside the realm of possibility.”
While Phil’s bloom can’t be experienced in person because of COVID-19 restrictions, the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics has set up a webcam in the greenhouse so those interested can track the flower's progress. The college also is sharing photos and updates on its Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts.
Phil’s second bloom is a testament to Thorson’s attentiveness. Even during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, Thorson fought to care for his plants during a time of uncertainty and lockdown.
“That was a really concerning thing for me that I would unintentionally not care for my plants,” he said. “Fortunately, I was able to convince superiors that I needed to make sure they were cared for, so they were healthy for research and education.”
Since joining CSULB in 2008, Thorson has amassed a large collection of plants, including the two corpse flowers he named Phil and Laura. His plants take up two on-campus growing compounds, one of which is located on the roof of Hall of Science and has three greenhouses and an outdoor area.
“It’s in the experience that young people figure out what they want to do with their life,” Thorson said.