Corpse Flower

September 27, 2016

titan-arum1webIt’s a foul smelling odor that emits from a towering flower that looks like it might have come out of Jurassic Park. This mighty flower stands up to 10ft tall and smells like…well… a decomposing corpse! But, oddly enough the size of this giant botanical beast is not the only oddity.

I guess that’s why they say, “wake up and smell the roses” because a rose is a far more pleasant scent by comparison.

This aptly named Corpse flower or Amorphophallus titanum is native to Indonesia’s Sumatran rainforest and considered the “largest unbranched inflorescence in the plant kingdom” according to the United States Botanic Garden.  “Calling it a flower is actually a misnomer: it comprises  several flowers that cluster around the base of the stalk (the spadix), hidden by the plant’s maroon skirt (the spathe) (National Geographic).”

Why the rotting smell? Scientist theorizes it is to attract insects such as flies, and carrion beetles who think it’s a decomposing body. These insects along with birds who eat berry-like fruits from the spadix, help to disperse the plant parts necessary to pollinate new plants.


Illustration by Chicago Botanic Garden

The corpse flower was discovered by Italian botanist Odoaro Beccari in 1878 who sent its seed back to Italy who in turn shared it with England’s Royal Botanical Garden who just 12 years later cultivated its first bloom in 1889.

Between 1889 and 2008 the corpse flower has only bloomed 157 times, which leaves botanist scratching their head at the fact that during 2016 alone there were 13 publicized blooms. Within a 3 month period, 6 to7 blooms occurred across the United States. A previously unheard of event.

The corpse flower only blooms when it’s ready. Years and seasons mean nothing to this mammoth plant. This is largely due to the size of the flower. The “corm” is an underground stem that stores energy from the plant. This will eventually produce a spike which over time will bloom.

Scientists suggest these plants may be related, but there is no significant evidence to verify their hypothesis.

Be on the lookout for upcoming Florida blooms including Seymour and Audrey (two corpse flowers) at Sarasota’s Selby Gardens and one at Winter Haven’s Rollins College.

This large flower is surely a sight to behold and a smell to endure


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