The Corpse Flower That Smells Like Death

Decaying flesh. A dirty nappy. Spoiled milk. Whatever you think it smells like, everyone agrees it does not smell good.

Until you've gotten up close and personal with the putrid plant, it's not clear just how terrible a flower’s odour can be. 

But that doesn’t stop thousands of people from visiting botanic gardens to take a whiff of the stinky plant.

So what’s the point of the horrible smell?

In their native home, Sumatra, the plants are located far apart and bloom infrequently, so they must attract lots of insects to ensure pollination.

[Image: Jacquelyn Martin, AP]

More commonly known as the corpse flower, Amorphophallus titanium uses its strong odour to attract beetles and bees that are looking for the best place to lay their eggs.

Mo Fayyaz from the University Of Wisconsin’s botany department says, “It makes them think there's rotten meat somewhere to lay their eggs, and then that helps the corpse flower to get pollinated. It smells bad to us, but it smells great to flies."
 
Late last year, a corpse flower began opening at the Mount Lofty Botanic Garden in South Australia.

“Flowering events are rare because the plant is so difficult to cultivate, even in optimum conditions,” says Matt Coulter, the garden’s horticultural curator of plant propagation.

[Image: Mount Lofty Botanic Garden]

“The fact the flower, and its signature stench, will only last around 48 hours before it collapses on itself, makes it a must-see event for plant lovers and curious souls alike.”

The flower blooms for the first time at between eight and twenty years old, with a second bloom taking up to another ten years.

Plants With a Putrid Purpose

Though the corpse flower itself is relatively uncommon, the tricks it plays are also used by other members of the plant kingdom.

Take the rafflesia, for instance, the giant, dark-red rainforest plant native to Southeast Asia. Nicknamed the "meat flower" by locals, it too uses a rotting flesh smell for pollination purposes.

There's also the starfish flower (Stapelia gigantea), which lives in the deserts of southeastern Africa. Like the rafflesia, it is also maroon - a colour that screams "rotting animal" to passing flies and beetles.

And then there are the more aptly named stinky plants: the skunk cabbage, the stinkhorn, and the dead horse arum lily, to a name a few. In nature they serve different purposes, but to humans they are similarly sickening.

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