Rare Corpse Flower Blooming at Nashville Zoo

Guests to Nashville Zoo will soon have a rare chance to see one of the largest and smelliest flowers on the planet. Amorphophallus titanum, more commonly known as the titan arum or a corpse flower is about to bloom at the Zoo’s HCA Healthcare Veterinary Center.


NASHVILLE, Tenn. - This species of corpse flower is considered to be one of the largest inflorescences in the world growing to more than eight feet in height. The life cycle of this plant includes brief periods of dormancy, where it exists only as an underground tuber (corm). When the tuber resprouts, it often sprouts as a single giant leaf that looks like a small tree, and during this part of its life cycle it carries out photosynthesis and stores up energy in the tuber, causing the tuber to grow larger. The leaf stage may last a year or so before the plant dies above ground to go dormant again for a few months. If the tuber gets large enough after multiple cycles as a leaf, the tuber can then resprout as a flowering structure that blooms.

When it blooms, it emits an odor that is similar to rotting flesh giving it its common name. The smell attracts carrion flies and beetles that pollinate it in its native Sumatra. Blooming is unpredictable and depends on the plant’s growing conditions. Under good conditions, the plant can bloom every two to three years. Other plants have been known to bloom every seven to ten years. The bloom itself lasts only 1-2 days. Guests visiting the Zoo can get up close to see and smell the bloom. The Zoo is also offering a live camera so people can watch the inflorescence grow and bloom.

The plant, nicknamed Zeus, is being loaned to the Zoo by Austin Peay State University. Recent storms caused significant damage to the Department of Biology’s greenhouse making it unsafe for plant to remain in place during the blooming period.

“We are pleased that Zeus will be residing at the Nashville Zoo and we really appreciate the Zoo’s willingness to host the plant on short notice,” said Dr. Carol Baskauf, Professor Emeritus of Biology at Austin Peay. She explained that Nashville Zoo was selected as a temporary home for Zeus because of their experience with corpse flowers and because the public would be able to see the plant. This is the second bloom for the 12-year-old plant. Once Austin Peay’s greenhouse is repaired, Zeus will return to his on-campus home.

This is the third "corpse flower" to bloom at Nashville Zoo. The first, a titan arum nicknamed Carmen, took place in October 2020 in the Zoo’s aviary after being donated by Vanderbilt University. The second, a slightly smaller species loaned to the Zoo from a private collection in Franklin, TN, bloomed in the aviary in April 2021. Through donations made over the past few years, Nashville Zoo now has a total of six corpse flowers of different ages. The Zoo's horticulture team hopes to offer more chances for the public to see this fascinating bloom.

Austin Peay State University's Department of Biology provides an intellectual and motivational environment for career development in many areas of biology. Students can pursue training in field biology and zoology, animal and plant physiology, microbiology, and environmental assessment. The Department of Biology faculty are committed to providing instructional and research experiences for students to develop skills of inquiry, abstract and logical thinking and critical analysis of natural science phenomena. The Department is also committed to meeting the needs of students by providing an array of professional, pre-professional and academic tracks.