Tuesday, August 26, 2014
When it comes to sex, fauna has nothing on flora.
Consider the dog. When dogs do it, their upper half appears totally unaware of what the lower half is up to. Judging from the boy dog's face, he's watching cartoons. And she, more contemplative, stares off into the ivy, wondering if that's where she lost her frisbee.
When the deed is done, they slink away in opposite directions, in tacit agreement to forget what just happened ever happened and to mention it to no one.
The plant world, on the other hand, knows no shame. Take the Amorphophallus titanum, for instance. Conveniently owning both male and female parts, the boy part works on his erection proudly, publicly, and for weeks, sometimes years, at a time. Growing two inches one day, four inches another day, and so forth, until reaching an impressive three to five feet tall. The female part doesn't help much to move things along other than handle the suspense with patience and grace.
Finally, the great day arrives. Well, actually, sometimes the great day never arrives, and the whole enterprise just peters out, as it were. But, should the great day arrive and the boy really gets it up, the girl blossom unfolds into a huge, dark burgundy flower. In celebration, the two let out one magnificent, unforgettable stink that can waft for miles. Those in the know say it smells like garbage, an outhouse, rotten eggs, or a piece of fish you left in the fridge while on vacation. Hence the common name: Corpse Flower.
The Corpse Flower bloomed at the Huntington Library this weekend. Thousands of people queued up on Sunday to catch some of the action.
As with both flora and fauna, while wooing and foreplay can take weeks, the climactic event often lasts but a few hours. I arrived 12 hours too late, and by that time found the exhausted Amorphophallus titanum smoking a cigarette, watching Breaking Bad reruns, and ordering take-out.
When I was there a week earlier, as a volunteer, staffing the information table along with a grammar school teacher, hundreds of people dropped by. Sex sells, and so, apparently, does a famously bad odor. In anticipation of the consummation, we had all sorts of drawings explaining the life cycle, including one that helpfully split the name of the plant into an English translation, including, just in case the plant hadn't already made this abundantly clear, the fact that phallus = penis.
When two little boys approached the table, the teacher slipped the English translation in a drawer, then went about her explanation using all the proper scientific terms, exchanging the word "phallus" for the equally correct, "inflorescence."
"Inflorescence, what's that?" they asked
"This, er, thing," she said, tapping the part in question with the eraser end of her pencil.
The two studied the drawings and samples on the table -- the corm, the spathe, the petiole, the inflorescence -- and then moved on.
"You know what I think?" the boy said to his friend, "I think it looks like a giant weiner."