What’s that Smell? ‘Corpse Flower’ blooms

What’s that Smell?  ‘Corpse Flower’ blooms
San Diego Botanic Garden President Julian Duval shows off the 'Corpse Flower' to visitors on Sept. 14. Photo by Aaron Burgin

Inside of the bamboo garden at the San Diego Botanic Garden stood a plant that, for several days, looked like a green missile.

By earlier this week, however, the plant was no longer green and gave off a smell that isn’t quite as deadly as a missile — but pretty close.

Amorphophallus titanium, known as ‘Corpse Flower,’ bloomed early in the week at the San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas. Photo by Rachel Cobb

The plant, Amorphophallus titanium, which is best known by its nickname ‘Corpse Flower,’ is known for the stench it emits (some say it smells like a dead animal or rotten flesh) and its spectacularly fast blooming peak.

It is the first time the garden has had a corpse flower on display since 2006.

The Botanic Garden has the plant on loan from Cal State Fullerton, and Garden President and CEO Julian Duval said large crowds converged on the garden last weekend looking forward to seeing if the plant lives up to its name.

But the plant started to bloom after the weekend, according to a news release.

“It’s clearly one of the real phenomena of the plant kingdom,” Duval said last week. “It has these strange, unpredictable blooming intervals and it looks otherworldly.”

In bloom, the large green spike-like pod, called a spadix, turns yellow, and the large leaves tightly wrapped around it become beautiful magenta-colored flaps.

And the plant begins to pulse the putrid stench, which Duval said is a pheromone that attracts dung beetles to pollinate it in the plant’s native Sumatran rain forest habitat.

The plant only blooms for a short time — the trademark scent lasting two days at most — and the entire bloom cycle lasts less than a month.

Even before it reached its bloom, crowds were flocking to the plant to catch a glimpse at the four-foot pod.

On Sept. 14, several days before the bloom, sisters Barb Moore and Shari Garrett, who live in Chicago and Scripps Ranch respectively, listened as Duval explained the life cycle of the plant.

“It’s amazing, we’re really lucky to have it so close to blooming,” Garrett said.

Moore agreed.

“It’s quite a paradox when it blooms because it’s so beautiful, yet gives off such a foul smell,” Moore said. “I want to come back just to smell it.”

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