There are two words I think we can all agree don’t belong together and they are as follows: corpse and flower. And yet, not only are corpse flowers a thing, they are a giant thing. The amorphophallus titanum or “corpse flower” is a huge flower that, when it blooms, gives off a smell akin to rotting meat. Corpse flowers are nature at its most intriguing, and if you’re lucky enough, there might be one near you—nearly every state has one. Even if you don’t, there’s a way to watch one bloom in the next few days, and we recommend you do.
What the hell is a corpse flower?
Corpse flowers are known as the largest flowering plant in the world. It’s a tropical plant native to western Sumatra, Indonesia, with a life expectancy of 30—40 years. The “spadix” or log tube center can grow up to 15 feet in height, and the leaves grow to nearly 13 feet wide. The outside is green like any flower bulb, and the leaves (or petals) are generally dark red or burgundy. The massive flower is part of the araceae family and is related to smaller plants like philodendrons, calla lilies, and peace lilies. They are also in the same family as skunk cabbage (big surprise).
They bloom on average every seven to 10 years, and when it does bloom, it will only do so once that year. Once the flower opens, it emits a strong, pungent smell that’s said to resemble rotting meat, or “flesh” (hence, “corpse”). Lifehacker senior health editor Beth Skwarecki recalls the smell as having more of a “warm garbage” odor and compares the experience to “walking past a really ripe dumpster on a summer day.”
Why does a corpse flower smell like garbage?
According to the planting site Treehugger, the plant’s scientific name, amorphophallus titanum, is ancient Greek which translates to “giant, misshapen phallus.” The giant phallus is exactly that and is meant to attract insects for the pollination of its species. The pungent smell entices insects like dung beetles and flesh flies accustomed to feeding on dead or rotting material.
Floriculturist Tim Pollak spoke with Live Science about the rare plant and added, “Corpse flowers are also able to warm up to 98 degrees Fahrenheit (36.7 Celsius) to further fool the insects,” meaning the plant mimics a rotting human to survive.
Where to find a corpse flower
Corpse flowers are an endangered species, which is why you probably don’t see them on your average hike or may not have even heard about them before. Despite being rare, many states and conservatories house them—and name them.
The San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers’ “Terra the Titan” bloomed in 2017 and again in 2020. Another corpse flower bloomed last month at the U.S. Botanical Garden in Washington, D.C., and a corpse flower in Pittsburgh named “Romero” bloomed back in 2016. While there isn’t a dedicated site to track corpse flowers in the United States, this Wikipedia site has a list of publicized blooms around the country.
How to watch a corpse flower bloom live
The Huntington Botanical Garden in San Marino, Calif., is eagerly awaiting the bloom of their corpse flower, due any day now. The flower—aptly named “Stankosaurus Rex”—towers at a staggering 82 inches tall. There’s no way to know how tall it will be when it blooms, but staff and visitors are excited about the momentous occasion. You can track the bloom on The Huntington conservatory’s live feed here.
The live stream will be up for the days leading up to the flower opening and will continue through all of its bloom, so check back periodically to see Stankosaurus Rex in all of its smelly glory.