One of nature’s slowest, smelliest shows is underway right now in a small number of greenhouses: the blooming of the corpse flower.
Over the next few days at the New York Botanical Garden, the United States Botanic Garden in Washington, DC, and Indiana University in Bloomington, these flowers will slowly unfurl, revealing a putrid maroon interior and a stench reminiscent of rotting flesh. Then they will collapse.
And people will want to watch. In past years, 130,000 visitors have come to see and smell the flower in Washington alone.
United States Botanic Garden, Washington, DC
The corpse flower — a.k.a. Amorphophallus titanum, or titan arum — produces one of the largest flowers in the floral world. (Okay, it’s technically not a flower, as National Geographic points out. "It comprises several flowers that cluster around the base of the stalk ... hidden by the plant’s maroon skirt," the magazine reports. ) Discovered in the rainforests of Sumatra, the titan arum can take eight to 20 years to bloom for the first time.
Blooms can top 8 or more feet tall. And they produce a small bit of heat, which causes their smelly chemicals to spread farther. (The evolutionary purpose of the stink is to attract pollinating insects that like to eat rotting flesh.)
New York Botanical Garden
This is the first time the New York Botanical Garden has had a corpse flower bloom in 80 years.
What’s also intriguing about the corpse flower is that it doesn’t have a consistent blooming cycle. "The plant blooms only when sufficient energy is accumulated, making time between flowering unpredictable, spanning from a few years to more than a decade," the US Botanic Garden explains. "It requires very special conditions, including warm day and night temperatures and high humidity, making botanic gardens well suited to support this strange plant outside of its natural range."
That’s why it’s kind of amazing that three flowers in three different cities are blooming at the same time. The New York flower is a bit ahead of the ones in Washington and Bloomington, as you can see on the live streams. (Update: The New York flower finished blooming over the weekend.)
The Indiana University live stream is not embeddable in this post. But you can watch it here.
These should provide hours of entertainment.
If you can’t stick around for the action, check out this video of a corpse flower blooming this June at the Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago.