Garden officials expect “peak smell” to occur early Monday morning, and the flower to remain open for an estimated 24 to 48 hours. Then it will begin to collapse on itself. The last corpse flower to bloom at the U.S. Botanic Garden was in 2007.
The titan arum is native to the tropical rainforests of Sumatra, Indonesia. It was first discovered in 1878. Corpse flowers also have recently bloomed at facilities in Ohio and in Belgium.
Scientists say the flower’s strange odor serves to attract beetles or other insects that are normally drawn to rotting flesh.
“Just in the same way that a lovely smelling plant, like a rose, is attracting a bee or another kind of insect with what we would consider a very nice smell, to pollinate it, this particular plant has the strategy of using a horrible, fetid smell to attract insects,” said Ari Novy, the public programs manager at the garden. “So this plant is essentially tricking those kinds of insects into coming, having a party inside of the plant and the flower and pollinating it and then moving on.”
The titan arum growing at the U.S. Botanic Garden is about 10 years old, and this is its first flower. It began with a seed the size of a lima bean and has grown several feet tall. The plants bloom on irregular, unpredictable schedules, Novy said. A hot, humid climate provides the ideal conditions for the plant to produce a flower.
Besides drawing beetles, the titan arum has proven to be a big draw for visitors.
“Over the last many years, this plant has proven to be the biggest attractor, not only of carrion beetles but of human beings that we’ve had,” Novy said. “It’s just got everything for a good mystery. It’s cryptic. It’s exotic. The timing is off. It’s inconsistent. It’s inconsiderate. It’s got all those great things. It’s from far away, and it smells bad, and people get interested.”
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