The corpse flower, Amorphophallus titanum, is native to the equatorial rainforests of Sumatra, Indonesia and is known for smelling like a combination of rotting meat, dumpsters and garlic. Unfortunately for any olfactory masochists, the plant only gives off its unsavory scent during a brief 24-hour period when the spathe opens and exposes the blooming flowers. The corpse flower blooms for the first time after six to ten years of life. Following the initial bloom, the blossoming is somewhat sporadic; it may bloom every two years or wait another 10. The time is difficult to predict because there is no annual cycle – the flower blooms only after enough energy has accumulated in its giant underground stem, the corm.
Either way, it’s going to be some time before D.C.’s favorite stench wafts through the city again. For the valiant with strong noses, the U.S. Botanic Gardens has extended its hours to 11 p.m. tonight and tomorrow. The flower typically begins to open during late afternoon and is fully exposed by nighttime. Botanists predict the stench will be strongest by mid-afternoon today due to a rare daytime bloom. Immediately following peak bloom, the spathe wilts and a new leaf begins to grow; all will be normal at the gardens by Thursday, with maybe a slight lingering stench of fish (but that’s no different than a usual day in our nation’s capital).
The corpse flower emits such a stench to attract pollinators. It tricks insects like dung beetles and flies into laying their eggs in what they believe is rotting flesh. Digging deep into the plant to deposit eggs, the insect becomes covered in pollen, which it transfers to the next stinky flower it comes across. Cultivated corpse flowers though rely on horticulturists to hand-pollinate. In fact, corpse flowers all across the country have been blooming for the last week– in New York, Florida, Indiana and Missouri. Pollen is collected from specimens in bloom and transferred to other blooming corpse flowers in neighboring states to maintain genetic diversity. Once the spathe dies, there is no way to pollinate until the next bloom. Horticulturists and eager spectators alike must work quickly to get their fill of the stench.
If you can’t make it in time, or would like to preserve your sense of smell, check out the live stream below.