Gardening 101

Of Stinky Plants and Resolutions

Corpse flower

In the fall of 2016, one of North Carolina State’s greenhouses experienced a baby panda moment, all due to a special flower. Not only did social media go wild, but people came from far and wide to marvel. However, unlike baby pandas, this special arrival would only dazzle for 24 hours.

Owned by NCSU graduate student Brandon Huber, who gave it the nickname of Lupin, the plant was Amorphophallus titanium, commonly known as the corpse flower. But this story isn’t about Lupin. Rather, it’s about gardening resolutions.

At the start of each year, I resolve to do a better job of keeping garden records, cleaning garden tools, and labeling my plants. However, this year is different because I learned something from Lupin and Bryce Lane, a distinguished undergraduate professor at NCSU and former TV garden show host. I asked Bryce why unusual plants get so much attention, and he explained, “I believe the beginning of learning is romance—falling in love with the awesomeness of something. And creating a sense of awe is our responsibility as educators. If we can do that, the hard work of learning can be endured.”

That hit home. When I fall in love with a plant I’m willing to learn about it, enduring the failures that will inevitably occur in an effort to successfully grow the object of my affection. And then I am compelled to share my joy with others. What gardener has ever just pointed out a plant, saying, “I grew that”? Instead, we should tell anyone who will listen all about the plant, why it’s so cool, what we went through to grow it, and why they need to try to cultivate it.

We gardeners know that our plants are awesome. Delighting in their stories, we know their secrets—or we think we do. However, all too often, I brush past them as I hurry to my next task, forgetting that others don’t know their awesomeness.

How can we ignore the flower of Amorphophallus titanium, a flower that smells like rotting flesh and is the largest bloom in the world? Just as we can’t take our eyes off baby pandas because they are so cute, we gaze at a corpse flower because it is uniquely weird.

I suddenly came to the realization that while my garden plants cannot hold the public’s interest the way baby pandas and Amorphophallus titanium do, they deserve to have their stories told. The rose in my garden survived Hurricane Katrina and the African marigold ‘Whopper’ started out as a lone seed in my pocket. For me, the plants in my garden inspire much awe so this year I’m resolving to tell their stories to anyone who will listen. What is your gardening resolution for the coming year?

Now, back to Lupin. You can hear my interview with Bryce Lane, Brandon Huber, and Dee Shore, who helped tell Lupin’s story to the world, on the Triangle Gardener podcast at TriangleGardener.com. Garden Destinations magazine sponsors the episode.

Dr. Lise Jenkins produces the Triangle Gardener’s podcast. She also volunteers her time as a Master Gardener in Durham.