Louis Ricciardiello is, without a doubt, the Johnny Appleseed of the Indonesian corpse flower. At his greenhouses in New Hampshire, the dental surgeon and amateur botanist has cultivated about 120 of the smelly plants, including both the 10-foot tall specimen that set the Guinness record for size in 2010 and the five that he donated to Franklin Park Zoo this year.
The huge plants, which blossom with a putrid stench once every five to 15 years, have been a hit at the zoo. This week, the flowering of one of the plants, named Morticia, attracted thousands of visitors. Ricciardiello has also donated Amorphophallus titanum specimens to a botanical garden in Niagara Falls, Ontario, and has offered a pair to a garden in Providence.
Ricciardiello was in surgery when contacted by the Globe, but called back to explain that he’d started growing the flowers in 2002. Ricciardiello, who grew up in Salem and attended UMass and Tufts, said he visited Franklin Park Zoo as a child and picked the zoo because he’d heard it would be receptive to his gift. Ricciardiello is trying to thin out his collection, though he insists the odor is tolerable. “You get used to it after a while,” he says.
The effect of Ricciardiello’s unusual philanthropy will be seen, and smelled, for years to come. The plants had been exceptionally hard to find, with only a handful of specimens outside Indonesia. Now, like the art collectors whose quirky passions and generous spirits built some of Boston’s great museums, he’s given the public something unique.