Corpse Flower Steals the Spotlight at Abandoned California Gas Station

A local nursery owner grew the rare botanical wonder and shared the bloom with the community, where they could touch and interact with the plant

A photo of a corpse flower in bloom at New York Botanical Garden's Haupt Conservatory. The plant has a long green stalk in the middle surrounded by a large maroon fan-like bloom
Around 1,200 residents stopped by to touch, photograph, and view the Alameda corpse flower. (Not pictured) Rhododendrites via Wikicommons under CC BY-SA 4.0

When a corpse flower (Amorphophallus titanium) blooms in a public botanic gardens conservatory, it is a rare sight. The plant, native to Indonesia, only blossoms once every decade or longer when conditions are right. Individuals flock to see it bloom into a showy burgundy fan and catch a whiff of its pungent odor.

So, when Solomon Leyva, a local nursery owner from California, wheeled a corpse flower to an abandoned gas station, lines to interact with the flower stretched down the block, reports Peter Hartlaub for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Local interest in the corpse flower from Leyva’s greenhouse located in Alameda City, California, began when he posted updates about the possibility of the corpse flower blooming, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. A corpse flower only blooms for 24 to 36 hours before its large stalk collapses, so as public interest built up, Leyva decided to share the exceptional bloom with residents when it blossomed in May.

“I grabbed my wagon, went down to my greenhouse, put it in with the help of a friend of mine, dragged it down here to this abandoned building, and people just started showing up,” Levay told the San Francisco Chronicle.

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When a corpse flower is on display at a museum, viewers are not allowed to touch it or get close because of its rarity and concerns with conserving the plant. There are only 1,000 remaining corpse flowers in the wild, and the plant is listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). However, Leyva had no rules when viewing the flower and sat in a camping chair nearby while residents lined up to view the flower. Around 1,200 residents stopped by to touch, photograph, and view the bloom, NPR’s Morning Edition reports.

“Nearly everyone remarked about the smell, but some didn’t find the smell until it wafted up with the breeze. Everyone took their mask off to smell it. I let kids play with it, dogs jump up on it. There’s no sense in protecting something that’s only going to live for a day. Everybody just has their memory, and that’s all you get,” Leyva explains to Atlas Obscura’s Jessica Leigh Hester.

Leyva’s corpse flower was on display in a simple 25-gallon bucket for two days while the plant was in full bloom. After it wilted, the bloom was cut off and left at the gas station, where kids played with it and others made ink prints with the petals, Atlas Obscura reports.

“Everyone is commenting to me that the last time they’ve seen this was in San Francisco, and there was a barrier, and they had to wait for hours, and they weren’t allowed to get near it,” Leyva tells the San Francisco Chronicle. “I think everyone’s tripping out that they can walk up and wiggle it and smell it. A lot of fun for everybody.”