The Impending Bloom of the Corpse Flower

August 3, 2016 | Erica Tennenhouse

corpse flower
Photo credit: Dave Pape/flickr (CC BY 2.0)

One of the world’s largest and smelliest flowers is mysteriously blooming all across the US.

It is known as the titan arum, or more commonly, as the corpse flower — so-called because of its noxious stench that calls to mind rotting animal flesh.

Marc Hachadourian, the director of the Nolen Greenhouses at the New York Botanical Garden, tells Scientific American, “It actually contains some of the same compounds that are present in putrefied flesh and fish. Chemically, it’s almost identical to these terrible smells.”

And although the stench is foul to humans, it actually helps the plants by drawing in pollinators such as flies and beetles.

SEE ALSO: Rare Corpse Lily Finally Blooms After Growing for Ten Years

Their massive size and powerful odor compounds make blooming an energy-intensive process for corpse flowers, which generally only open up for the first time after 7-10 years of dormancy. Even then, they only stay open for around 36 hours.

Native to Sumatra, Indonesia, corpse flowers — which can reach heights of over 1.8 meters (6 feet) — are cultivated all over. Only 157 blooms have reportedly occurred worldwide between 1889 and 2008, but according to ScienceAlert, at least 7 corpse flowers have already bloomed in the US this year.

One hypothesis for the sudden synchronous blooming is that greenhouses in the US all get their seed from the same source, meaning all of their corpse flowers are close relatives and thus follow similar flowering patterns. This idea is hard to verify because the origins of many of the blooming flowers are unknown.

Another proposed explanation is the recent popularity of the corpse flower. With more botanical gardens cultivating the plants, flowering events become more common and more likely to occur simultaneously.

Whatever the reason is for the corpse flower blooms, now seems to be a good time to head to a nearby botanical garden and find out what all the stink is about.

Watch a time-lapse video of a corpse flower blooming:



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