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Local surgeon may own the largest flower in the world

Local oral surgeon Dr. Louis Ricciardiello’s giant corpse flower stands 10 feet tall when in bloom, and could potentially be recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records. Courtesy photo. (click for larger version)
June 30, 2010
For oral surgeon Dr. Louis Ricciardiello, who resides in Gilford among his three greenhouses blooming and flowering with exotic plants, a hobby has grown larger than life now that a "corpse flower" under his watch may set a world record.

The giant Amorphophallus titanium, also known as the Titan Arum, or the corpse flower for its unique aroma, which mimics that of rotting flesh when opened, is native to the tropical climate of the forests in Sumatra, a part of Indonesia on the equator.

The flowering stalk that bloomed up to 10 feet and 2.25 inches high last Thursday night in Ricciardiello's greenhouse from its tip to tub (by the bulb), may beat the current Guinness Book of World Records holder, a flower that blossomed up to 10 feet tall in Bonne, Germany.

His plant is potentially the largest corpse flower in the world, and certainly the largest in the United States.

Ricciardiello said this has been a hobby of his since he came to Laconia in 1982, although he believes that this may be the last large plant he pots for a while.

His three computer operated greenhouses were originally designed for orchids, which tend to favor different environments. Ricciardiello took a chance when he bought a dozen corpse flower seeds, only an inch in length, from an orchid dealer in 2002.

In 2006, his first flower challenging a world record bloomed.

"It's not that common – it's considered the largest flower in the world, and the most spectacular bloom in the world," said Ricciardiello.

According to Ricciardiello, there were only 100 blooms in the world during 2006, a number that is not likely to rapidly increase.

"It starts off as small seedlings, and a few months later the stalks come up. It's successive – it gets bigger and bigger and goes through cycles," said Ricciardiello. "You can't tell what the lifespan will be, or how many bulbs it has."

A single flower rises from the bulb, and the biggest corpse flower bulb set in at 305 pounds and 36 inches in diameter; corpse flowers in the wild can grow up to 20 feet.

The leaf and leaflets on a corpse flower can last up to three or four months, although it is not evident if more leaves or flowers will produce in months to come, as is the case with the groundbreaking corpse flower, which has died down and will soon grow a tree-like stalk again and lie dormant for a while.

He said that the corpse flower is considered an inflorescent since it has hundreds of small flowers at its base. He describes it as a self-sufficient plant, since it is disease-resistant and doesn't attract many pests.

Ricciardiello said that the first night when the corpse flower opens, the female flowers are receptive to the males, while the plant's temperature rises, producing its strong odor up to eight hours after opening. The smell and color of the blooming flower attract insects.

After this first night, the flower can no longer cross-pollinate, so Ricciardiello stores the pollen in a freezer, and during the next bloom he can apply the pollen.

Ricciardiello said he doesn't hide many secrets under his sleeve, since he uses regular soil from local nurseries along with common fertilizers. However, he is in tune to the temperatures and watering these plants need to thrive.

He plans to send a shipment of these species over to China, since their country is barren of these flowers in their habitat and their greenhouses.

Ricciardiello has another corpse flower in his greenhouse that may bloom any day now, although he cannot say for certain how impressive its bloom may be.

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