This rare giant flower smells like a corpse

Roses are red, violets are blue, titan arum is putrid—and it could make you puke.

Image: Roger Wollstadt, Flickr [left]/Stephen Wolfe,Flickr [right]

With its sweet, sweet stench, the beautiful titan arum (Amorphophallus titanium) is quite a spectacle that draws crowds of avid tourists every time it blooms in a botanic garden. 

Last week an even rarer spectacle involving this three-metre-tall flower, native to the tropical rainforests of Sumatra and Indonesia, occurred at the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in the US, where two corpse flowers bloomed at the same time. The event, according to The Sydney Morning Herald, is the equivalent of a lunar eclipse in the world of botany.

The flower stays dormant for up to 10 years, hiding its fleshy red and cream petals from nosey humans—and saving the world’s nostrils for its putrid smell, which has been described by members of the United States Botanic Gardens as “the essence of rotting fish” and “a farm on a hot day, where a cow has died”.

Although it’s considered the stinkiest flower on Earth, titan arum’s smell is like Chanel No 5 for dung beetles and flies. When these creatures smell the rotten scent of the flower, they hurry towards it to make sure no other animal steals their precious meal—and they are greedy, going into every nook and cranny until they are satisfied. Once the animals are satiated, they fly away covered in pollen. Titan arum’s mission has been accomplished—the insects will pollinate other flowers.

The flower closes 48 hours after blooming. Its putrid smell disappears, and the titan arum is not seen until years later.