Spike, the badass flower

Titan Arum

He has name. His name is Spike. I saw him with my own two eyes, and he is a massive, glorious beast. Spike is the name of the Chicago Botanic Garden’s goliath “corpse flower,” or the Titan Arum. It took 12 years for this flower, which is actually a collection of flowers, to reach the height 68’’. Let me just say, it’s simply humbling when you realize that one of those dainty flower things can be taller, wider, heavier — not to mention smarter — than a human being.

One Friday, my sister, friend, and I stumbled upon the idea of going to the Chicago Botanic Garden. We weren’t even aware of the hype, or Godzilla-like specimen that awaited us. Once we arrived, it was clear though, the people had come for Spike. His ribbed, purple face was plastered all over the gift shop. He was on shirts and bags. On cooking aprons and postcards. He was the star of the show. Little kids were tugging on sleeves and whining, “Mom, I want to smell the stink.”

What stink? We wanted to smell the stink, too.

Then, there he was. In the center of the Semitropical Greenhouse, reaching toward the glassed in heavens. People were crowding around him, snapping selfies with the monster.

My sister, friend, and I stood with our mouths agape, taking in the near six foot “corpse flower.” The Titan Arum, native to Indonesia, has a rotting flesh smell that attracts pollinators. And not cute little bees, butterflies, or hummingbirds. No, this flower with its nightmare bloom has its heart set on dung beetles and flies. The tall center part of the bloom, the spadix, heats up to help disperse the odor far distances. The spadix heats up to 98F, the same temperature as the human body. Since the flower’s natural habitat is the rainforest, the greenhouse had to be kept to humid temperatures of 75 to 90 percent saturation at all times.

The time of our visit was important. The flower was set to bloom any night (it blooms at night), possibly the evening of our visit. Once we got our fill, we wandered over to the other botanic displays, all lovely and presentable in their own right. But our thoughts lingered on Spike. We stayed until closing. Though the rest of the grounds were hard for us to scope out, the lights were still on Spike when we returned. We took one last whiff and crept to my car in the darkness.

Over the next week, my sister alerted me that there was a Kardashian-like cam on Spike at all times. “Still hasn’t bloomed,” my sister informed me at the end of each day. Then on August 24, Spike stopped working overtime.

When the botanists were asked why the flower did not bloom, they responded, “We’re not entirely sure. In nature, plants have the choice of reproducing or surviving. Spike ‘chose’ to survive, having run out of energy to complete reproduction.”

The botanists talk about plants as if they have actual “choices” to make, and this by far sticks with me beyond anything. Maybe there’s something inside me that is still cheering Spike on; that is grateful Spike ‘chose’ to save his energy for himself rather than relinquish his true power in front of the cameras and hungry people eager to see him perform — to emit a smell so foul that eyes would water, grandmothers would dry heave. “Summon the flies!” we all cheered.

“Nah,” said Spike, and then he fucking quit.

When botanists learned that Spike would not bloom, they opened him up. They tried their best to harvest the pollen, or perform in front of viewers “the delicate procedure of removing the spathe by cutting around the base of the flower just above where it attaches to the stalk of the plant.” (This sounds to me like performing an autopsy on the still living, but what do I know? Apparently, there is a slight risk to the procedure, but it’s not entirely harmful to the plant.)

Gardens typically divvy up pollen so that other plants may thrive. It turns out Spike had very little pollen to offer. And his female flowers weren’t ready to receive pollen. And guess what: there was no rotting meat smell. Instead, a “slight smell” only if you held it up very close to your nose.

The Botanic Garden was simply floored that people, 75,000 to be exact, would come from miles around just to see Spike bloom in person and from their computers and phones. My sister and I were among the many texting each other updates on the flower’s progress. Spike is a natural born conversation starter.

Spike would have been the first Titan Arum to bloom in Chicagoland, but he didn’t. And it’s a crying shame because he raked in a lot of attention. Can you see where this is going?

The garden has seven other flowers just like Spike. “Spike, who?” read the Chicago Tribune headline on September 29. Now, in comes Alice, who debuts today at 7 p.m. The extremely rare sibling of Spike is now powdering up and getting ready for her big show.

These flowers are entirely unpredictable. In nature they only flower once in 1000 days, and the bloom only lasts for three days. Very few people have ever seen them flower. There is fairly little research on them though they were officially discovered in 1878 by the Italian natural scientist Odoardo Beccari. I think one was featured in a Simpson’s episode.

Spike in the meantime, lies dormant in a freezer, ready to bloom another day (or not). To which I say, that’s okay Spike, you do what you gotta do.

Sources:

chicagobotanic.org/titan/spike_titan_arum

bioscigreenhouse.osu.edu/titan-arum-faqs

nbcchicago.com/news/local/Why-Chicago-Botanic-Gardens-Corpse-Flower-Didnt-Bloom-323375051.html

chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/home/ct-titan-arum-corpse-flower-blooming-botanic-garden-20150929-story.html

bbc.co.uk/nature/life/Titan_arum#p004gx80

The worst kind of pimple

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The worst kind of pimple

I drove myself to the eyeball clinic one morning before work. The night before, I ate Italian sausage for dinner, watched part of Blue Planet on Netflix, and went to bed. All was well. Not a mouse stirring. When I woke up my left eye was on fire.

What the hell was happening to me? I scuttled into the bathroom like a blind crab and lunged toward the mirror. No signs of mutation or dysfunction. That’s weird, I thought, so why is my entire eye socket throbbing in pain so sharp I’m grinding my back molars together? After pacing around my kitchen, cupping my face in agony, I determined my painful eye an emergency.

I was the only person under 70 years old sitting in the waiting room, probably because people my age don’t have time to sit around in a waiting room, determining the fate of their mystery eye ailments. “You’re catching up to me,” this old gentlemen said and winked at me, and I laughed because I thought he was talking about age when really he meant that I was next in line after him to get my eyeballs fondled. So, I shut my left eye, and the older gentleman and I squinted at an episode of Dr. Phil about a girl who cried “rape.” And poke, poke, poke through the whole thing until the doctor called me into a room.

It’s been years since I’ve seen a doctor, let alone an eye specialist. I still have yet to turn over my new insurance card and locate a primary care doctor. I know, how irresponsible, right? But if you can believe it, until recently, I was one of the millions of young adults without health insurance. Thanks, Obama (?)

But in all seriousness, I truly feel for those who aren’t insured. I remember shaking over an entire flight of stairs, clinging to a railing tight after catching myself, and thanking the heavens for not letting me collide with the earth. Being uninsured at any age is terrifying. Things can happen to anyone, and medical debt can devastate lives for people who are already struggling or just finally getting ahead.

This eye examination wasn’t just a “stare at the text and recite your ABC’s” kind of thing, it was a “press your face into this Hannibal Lecter contraption and don’t move while I slip your eyelids inside out, fold them into a paper crane, and proceed to scrape scum off your retina with a pointed tip” kind of thing.

The young doctor who looks like Hayden Christensen was impatient with me when my aching eye involuntarily protested against three rounds of liquid drops. “Haven’t you ever had your eyes checked before?” Um, for glasses doc, when I was 8.

Oh, and dilated eyes basically means that you won’t be able to see much for the next 3 hours. I felt like the Men in Black just flashed me with their memory-removing laser, except unfortunately mine was still intact. I quickly remembered that I was being tortured.

“The dilation will make it hard for you to read.” I tried to be funny. “I’m an editor, but that’s okay I don’t read much.” Dr. Christensen wasn’t amused and told me to sit still. A toddler getting a haircut. I would rather have my vagina examined while getting a tooth pulled then have to go through this examination ever again.

And it turned out that the lengthy process was all for nothing. There was no life-inhibiting infection brewing under my eyelid; it was the early onset of a stye, or fatty, blob of an oil and pus buildup, the equivalent to a pimple (yum!).

When I read about the causes of styes, my face grew red with shame. I guess it happens a lot when people rub their noses and then touch their eyes. Eww. Or when they don’t remove their makeup before going to bed (guilty). Or a lot of things that amount to not washing your hands enough. I felt like a slob.

Why am I writing about my stye of all things? Well because this microscopic pus mound is making my life miserable right now, and I’m trying to have a sense of humor about it. It’s insane how one small little thing can have such a huge effect on your day-to-day life.

I know this is pathetic, and I sound like a wimp, but humor me and take a look at all the things that this stupid, little stye is doing:

  • Decreased productivity

-Google: “Can you go blind from an stye?”

-WebMd: Self-diagnosis.

“It’s been 15 minutes since I last steamed my eye pimple, I should probably do it again.”

-Google: “Images of styes”

-Google: “What it’s like to go blind.”

-Text Sean: “Babe will you still love me if I have a glass eye?”

-Text Dad: “Hey Dad, do you still have that eye patch from your Halloween costume?”

-Google: “Can you take more than 10 Advil pills in one day?”

-“If someone offered me heroine right now, I might pause a few extra seconds before I say ‘no.’”

-“I should probably finish editing this press release, but I’m going to write a post about how this stye has been hindering my life.”

  • Lower amounts of self-esteem

-I somehow feel fatter, bloated

-I feel like the left side of my face is drooping

-Every now and then, goop creeps to the corner of my lid (sexy).

– I feel like Chris from Family Guy, the episode where he has a talking pimple telling him to think and do bad things. Mine hates my guts and keeps telling me to act as miserable as possible and lash out at people because they don’t understand how much pain I’m in.

  • Phantom objects- That “there is something in my eye” feeling. All day. Oh yeah, it’s a pimple poking into my eyeball.
  • Increased road rage

-Snails with wheels inching in traffic. And poke poke poke poke. Dude cuts me off. Oops, and there goes my middle finger.

-“What red light?”

-“Excuse me, but I have to ride the median, this is an emergency.”

-“No, I’m not actually crying, stop trying to scoot your ass next to me to see if I am.”

-“I can’t wait to get home and shove my face under a scalding hot shower.”

  • Loss of appetite- I’m so digusted with this thing, it’s tarnished my want for food.
  • Swelling, headaches, muscle fatigue of the neck… because of a pimple
  • Loss of dignity

There it is, folks. Over 1,000 words about a stye. It can be done if you have enough petty bullshit to complain about. I hope it was mildly humorous.

I understand that there are a lot of worse things to deal with when it comes to pain that aren’t so funny, but my response to that is along the same lines. When you feel trapped inside your body because of pain, your best bet is to mentally fight back. This stye does not own me. Say: Fuck this pain.