R.I.P. Uncle Fester: Stinky flower goes flaccid

Bloedel Conservatory’s rare corpse flower has collapsed but will remain on display through the weekend

Uncle Fester’s days at the Bloedel Conservatory are numbered.

The rare corpse flower that has attracted crowds of curious onlookers and garnered international media attention over the last week and a half collapsed Thursday morning. Bloedel superintendent Bruce McDonald said the flower will be left on display over the weekend and staff will reassess the situation on Monday.

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“People are interested in the story still so they want to see what’s happening with him, what he looks like now and I think it looks kind of strange now but in a way it’s still really beautiful,” McDonald said.

Uncle Fester attracted 17,000 visitors to the conservatory since July 10. At the peak on Monday and Tuesday this week people were waiting upwards of four hours to catch a glimpse, and whiff, of the rare bloom — whose smell has been described as the stench of rotting flesh, or dirty diapers left out in the sun — and 8,000 visitors made their way through the doors on those two days alone.

By comparison, Bloedel saw a total of about 15,000 visitors for the entire month of July last year.

The titan arum, scientific name Amorphophallus titanium, arrived in Vancouver in 2016. Since then it’s been growing at a local nursery.

“The growing itself was easy, the worry and the fear of doing something wrong to Uncle Fester was high,” McDonald said. “There was always this anxiousness to it. There were a lot of what ifs — what if he’s going to flower, what if he’s not going to flower, what if he flowers and he doesn’t fully open, it’s just like all these things running through the back of your mind.”

In the end, while this year’s bloom came as a surprise everything went well, he said.

McDonald said that the seven-year-old plant went through a leaf phase last year and then went dormant. He added that there was some concern because the bulb saw a slight increase in size. When the bud came up it looked normal, he said, but then it began to grow.

“It grew and grew and it started to grow a little bit faster and then all of a sudden it started looking different,” McDonald said, adding that around June 20 staff started to suspect it might be flowering this year.

The decision was made to move Uncle Fester, who earned his moniker through a naming contest, to the conservatory after it grew a foot and a half in just four days and on July 10 the Vancouver Park Board announced that the rare flower was expected to bloom any day.

The bloom was short lived. Fester bloomed at 6 p.m. on Sunday and was already starting to close up again by about 2 p.m. on Monday. The much-anticipated smell lasted for an even shorter time — only lasting until about noon on Monday.

“When I got here in the morning it stunk to high heaven but then it just started to dissipate,” McDonald said, adding, “I think we disappointed on that respect.”

This isn’t the last Vancouver has seen of Uncle Fester. The corpse flower is expected to bloom again, likely in the next five to 10 years.

“It could happen again in a couple years, which would be very rare. You don’t often get back to back flowers or blooms,” McDonald said.

He added that he would also like to display the plant in when it’s in its leaf phase.

@JessicaEKerr

jkerr@vancourier.com

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