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Stinky ‘Corpse flower’ goes on display at U.S. Botanic Garden

The United States Botanic Garden Conservatory is world renowned as a wonderful place to see and smell a stunning range of plants and flowers. Yesterday, the Conservatory added another distinct smell to their repertoire, one with the distinct claim to fame of coming from one of the world’s most odoriferous plants.

The titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum), more commonly known as the “Corpse flower,” does not bloom annually – the time between flowerings can span anywhere from a few years to a few decades. Now, at the Botanic Garden in Southwest D.C, this tropical plant is starting to bloom.

According to the Conservatory website, once fully opened, the plant will remain in bloom for 24 to 48 hours, releasing an odor often compared to the stench of rotting flesh. Despite its ominous name, the smell is only there to attract insects by indicating the flowers are open. Since in nature nothing is done without reason, once the flowers are pollinated, the plant no longer needs to invest energy in pheromone production, which can be quite costly to produce, thus accounting for the short bloom time.

The pungent fragrance is at its most potent throughout the night, into the early morning. The ability of the bloom to generate heat allows the stench to travel even farther.

Representatives of the Botanic Garden indicate their facility is an ideal home away from home, as it meets the very special conditions, including warm temperatures and high humidity, required for the plant to thrive.

The last time titan arum bloomed at the Botanic Garden was six years ago. The plant will likely be in bloom through Friday.

Last year, the National Botanic Garden of Belgium experienced their third blossoming of the pungent plant since its receipt from Bonn, Germany in 2008. Researcher and botanist at the Botanic garden, Bart Van de Vijver, can’t quite explain this phenomenon, indicating only that the Belgian plant shows a preference for flowering.  It may take another three years to bloom again, but the plant has proven to be quite unpredictable.