One of nature’s slowest, smelliest shows is underway in the nation’s capital: the blooming of the corpse flower.
Over the next week at the United States Botanic Garden in Washington, DC, not one but three(!) of these flowers will slowly unfurl each evening for several days, revealing a deep maroon interior and giving off a stench reminiscent of rotting flesh. Then they will collapse.
Many people will watch this dramatic performance. In past years, up to 130,000 visitors have come to see and smell the flower in Washington.
The flowers are expected to open each night now until August 23. If you can’t make it to the garden in Washington, you can watch the bloom in the live stream below. Thrilling, right?
The corpse flower — 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 feet tall or more. 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 certain pollinating insects that like to eat rotting flesh.)
Besides their smell, what’s 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 this year’s event is remarkable. This will be the first bloom for all three plants, which range from five to 12 years old, the Botanic Garden reports. And it’s most likely the first time three of these plants are blooming at the same time in the same institution in the United States. Check it out.
If you can’t stick around for the action, check out this time-lapse video of a corpse flower blooming this June at the Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago.