Stop and Smell the Corpse Flower — If You Dare!

May 13, 2016

More than a thousand people visited Foster Botanical Garden to witness the corpse flower in bloom. The rare plant even radiates heat as it emits its pungent smell.
Credit Molly Solomon

This corpse flower is no shrinking violet. And anyone who caught a whiff of it in bloom this week at Foster Botanical Garden certainly knows the pungent blossom lives up to its name.

Scot Mitamura, a horticulturist at the gardens, said the corpse flower, or Amorphophallus titanium, started to open Thursday afternoon. The plant, originally from Sumatra, Indonesia, takes 10 years to blossom from seed. It then unleashes its signature smell when it reopens every two to five years.

Credit Molly Solomon

“So that makes it a novelty. Plus there’s the smell,” said Mitamura, stating the obvious for anyone downwind. He describes the stench as “like a dead animal, a dead rat. But with a fishier side, maybe rotted fish guts,” Mitamura said. “It’s pretty nasty. It’ll make tears come out of your eyes.”

Mitamura explains the flower is stinky with a purpose. “In the plant kingdom, quite often trickery or mimicry is a means of pollination,” he said. “So what it’s trying to do is mimic a rotting animal. That attracts the carrion flies and beetles which feed on dead animals.”

The color of the inner blossom is even a deep reddish-purple, which Mitamura says matches the color of meat. “So everything is to attract the carrion beetle,” he said. “He’ll go in there, not find any meat. But he gets the pollen on him and ends up pollinating another corpse flower.”

Credit Molly Solomon

Sarah Casken arrived at Foster Botanical Garden just before closing time Thursday night. “A lot of people have said it smells like dead fish, certainly dead something,” she said. “Out of such a beautiful plant, it’s quite an odiferous smell.”