That’s the first thing I said when I entered Niagara Parks’ Floral Showhouse, a pyramidal tropical greenhouse and formal gardens just a hop, skip and jump from Horseshoe Falls in Niagara Park, Canada. Not the best greeting, I know, but the stench was unbelievably vile. The room was lush and humid, a verdant tangle of plants and blooms that should have smelled like – well, flowers – not death. The lady behind the counter smiled broadly and said “right this way” gesturing around the central planting. “Just follow your nose.”
Suddenly it dawned on me. I was about to see a very rare sight, one seldom seen outside of the jungles of Sumatra. It was the Amorphophallus Titanum, a.k.a. Titan Arum, commonly referred to as “corpse plant”. And it was as big as it smelled! At approximately six feet tall and four across, it was actually small for the Floral Showhouse, whose first bloom in 2012 was eight feet tall. Nevertheless, it was a most impressive bloom, the first I’d seen in real life.
Gardeners research these things, so naturally I’d read a National Geographic account of finding one in the Sumatra Jungle and seen a time-lapse video of the 24 hour bloom taken in a laboratory by horticulturists studying the plant’s life cycle. And, while I could appreciate the size, there was no distracting smell either time. Still, I’d never heard mention of the Floral Showhouse in connection with Titan Arum. I stepped back a bit to appreciate the naturalistic setting this one was blooming in and saw that there were more plants in various stages of development. I’d stumbled into the largest collection of blooming size Titan Arum in the world. What a coup!
How rare was this bloom? Italian botanist Odoardo Beccari first discovered the Titan Arum in the Sumatra jungle in 1878. He sent seeds to the Royal Botanical Gardens in London where it first bloomed outside of its natural habitat in 1889. Over the next century only 21 blooms were recorded. Since 1990 that number has jumped to more than 150. Only 40 blooming-size plants are known to exist outside of Sumatra, where the plants numbers dwindle in a declining and degraded habitat. It is in danger of becoming extinct in the wild. The Floral Showhouse has approximately 60 plants including many seedlings.
Niagara Parks’ Floral Showhouse manager, Joan Cornelious, said “We have two plants coming into bloom this summer, the first in June and the second about 3 weeks later. We don’t know how big they’ll get, but the world’s record height is 10 feet 2 inches.” There was one bloom last year as well. Altogether the Floral Showhouse has recorded seven blooms since their first in 2012.
Another unusual aspect of the Titan Arum, aside from the smell and its short 24 hour bloom, is the growth after the bloom. The Floral Showhouse’s first plant, whose flower was approximately 8 ft tall, sent up a shoot 15 ft tall and 11 inches wide. Its canopy spread was 17 feet – it looked like a small tree but was (to be scientifically correct) just one leaf. Typically, that growth absorbs nutrition for the corm underground during its 1-2 year life span, then dies back and the plant lies dormant for awhile before blooming again. In this case, it has bloomed every other year since the first, with its flower growing progressively shorter by about a foot each time.
While the Floral Showhouse has another Titan Arum expected to bloom later this year (check their website for timing) it is so much more than just a corpse plant showcase. There are 8 floral shows a year, a large rose garden, display greenhouses and working greenhouses, a water garden and lovely display gardens with some specimen trees. They were setting up a geranium show inside when I was there, while outside was their annual and very popular miniature village, with tiny ornate buildings appearing in the most unlikely places around the grounds.
Niagara Parks is a 35 mile linear park along the Canadian side of the Niagara River with landscaped cliff-top walks, white water trails, an extensive Botanical Garden with an amazing butterfly house, the Floral Showhouse plus boats and trams and tunnels under the falls – enough activities to keep every member of your family happy to be there and wanting to come back. With five restaurants and plenty of accommodations, including the reasonably priced and stylishly understated Double Tree Fallsview Resort and Spa by Hilton you could park your car and walk or take the WEGO bus to everything. Discount attraction ticket packages called Adventure Passes are available.