When Brandon Huber was eight years old, his parents took him to the Philadelphia Flower Show and he was introduced to plants he’d never before. His interest in growing exotic plants has bloomed ever since.
“It was kind of one of those things that you say, ‘OK, I am going to try to grow this thing but it’s probably not going to work out, but I’m going to give it a shot,’” Huber said.
Huber, a 2013 horticulture alumnus, now has a collection of more than 200 plants he’s grown at his Northeast Philadelphia home.
Huber’s collection houses a Titan arum, or “corpse flower,” named Lupin, that bloomed for the second time while on show at North Carolina State University last month. The endangered 6-foot 4-inch tall, foul-smelling flower has drawn more than 7,000 visitors since being added to the greenhouse.
Huber said that Lupin is also one of the biggest species of plants he knows how to grow.
“It’s kind of like a challenge,” he said.
The exhibit was Huber’s second time showcasing the plant. He currently works as a plant physiology researcher at NCSU, where he earned his master’s in plant breeding in 2017.
“It’s such a cool plant, like when we bring tourists in the greenhouse, even though [Titan arums] aren’t flowers, they are the plants that people gravitate toward. They look like nothing else in there,” said Ben Snyder, manager of the Greenhouse Complex at Temple Ambler campus.
The “corpse flower” has a temperature of 90 degrees Fahrenheit while blooming, which creates its corpse-like smell, its adaptive technique to attract pollinators, according to Huber. The flower blooms for about two days and the smell only lingers for 24 hours or less.
Huber had tried growing the plant once before but failed because he did not have an adequate environment for it.
“The key is to just really keep the environment consistent,” he added.
Huber said he wanted to grow the flower since he was 15, and first saw it in an exotic plant catalog.
He had started growing succulents, cacti and carnivorous plants after his first visit to the flower show, and as he grew older, his love expanded to more complex tropical plants.
Huber said the inspiration for Lupin’s name came from the “Harry Potter” character, Remus Lupin, who was also a werewolf.
Huber also wanted to name it in honor of “the wolfpack,” NCSU students’ nickname.
Lupin is now 16 years old. The plant takes five to 10 years to grow and three to five years for the flower to develop, according to Huber.
“[Huber] didn’t pollinate his first one, so he has gotten the second flower off relatively quickly,” Snyder said.
Huber and his team at NCSU were able to capture the growth of Lupin with a time-lapse this time.
“Lupin has put [NCSU] on the map,” wrote Diane Mays, a research specialist at NCSU’s Department of Horticultural Science, in an email to The Temple News, that
Huber is currently studying plant physiology for his doctorate, which involves researching efficient ways to optimize plant growth in container environments. This research will help address “futuristic but costly production systems,” he said.
He continues to challenge his growing expertise by growing giant fruits and vegetables like pumpkins, watermelons and gourds. He hopes to become a professor of horticulture, specifically plant breeding, in the future.
“When I was in undergrad, I had no idea that I would be where I am at now, at all,” Huber said. “Horticulture doesn’t feel like a job, it’s just part of my passion.”