The Amorphophallus titanum, better known as the corpse flower, is unlike any bloom you may encounter in a shop, say, in Manhattan’s Flower District. The Sumatran specimen is one of the world’s largest flowers, which, during its brief 24 to 36-hour bloom, releases a stench like that of rotting meat. Its odor is so strong that it attracts insects which normally feed on dead animals. So, why is New York City abuzz with talk of a nostril-curling flower from Indonesia?
This unpredictable plant takes seven to ten years to bloom for the first time. The New York Botanical Garden’s (NYBG) newest corpse flower was only just discovered on June 1 and is expected to bloom within the next two weeks. If the garden’s last corpse flower bloom in 2016 is any indication, NYBG can expect a spike in attendance during that time. (The 2016 bloom brought in more than 25,000 visitors and nearly two million viewers of the garden’s online livestream).
The Bronx garden has a long history as a titan arum host: the Western Hemisphere’s first-ever corpse flower bloomed there in 1937, followed by another in 1939. NYBG’s Director of Public Relations Nicholas Leshi gives several explanations for the plant’s enduring popularity: the “curiosity factor” related to its odor, as well as the “visual spectacle” it offers. Growing up to “about six to eight feet tall in cultivation,” the titan arum is “the largest unbranched inflorescence [in] the plant kingdom.”
But perhaps the flower’s rarity is the most urgent reason to see, or smell, the corpse flower this month. “Who knows when the next [bloom] will be?” said Leshi.