‘Corpse plant’ sure to live up to its reeking reputation at Botanic Garden

A box of dead rabbits left to bake in the Florida sun.

That’s the best description Ari Novy of the U.S. Botanic Garden said he’s heard for the pungent odor produced by the titan arum, a behemoth of a plant world-renowned for its selective blooming, its size and its stench.

But with one of the Botanic Garden’s resident “corpse plants” on the cusp of blooming this week, there’s a good chance Mr. Novy will hear a few more choice descriptions of the putrid petals.

“It smells just like rotting garbage,” said George Peck, an entomologist who lives in Silver Spring. “It’s an old evolutionary trick, luring pollinators.”

The 52-year-old studier of bugs said he also loves botany, and his curiosity about the corpse plant is what enticed him and his 11-year-old son to come down to take some pictures.

“This plant is unique in the world,” he said. “It’s still not quite open, but it’s very exciting.”

On Sunday, several dark green pieces of protective coating had begun to peel away, revealing a vibrant green stem but no stench yet.

The Botanic Garden is staying open late Monday to accommodate additional visitors curious to get a whiff of the stinky plant.

A giant plant that smells like death might sound like something out of a horror story, but it’s the way the titan arum plants reproduce.

Just as certain flies will only lay their eggs in rotten meat, certain pollinators will only be attracted to a plant with a particular stench.

“Any dead animal left in a humid environment,” Mr. Novy summarized.

This is the first time this particular plant has bloomed. It came to the garden in 2007 about the size of a lima bean and is about 7 years old.

Originally forecast to bloom Thursday, a combination of lower temperatures and a “fickle” temperament have slowed the plant’s blooming, Mr. Novy said, meaning it’s more likely the giant plant will blossom early this week.

“It’s not there yet, it’s being coy with us,” said Mr. Novy, who was standing feet from where the enormous plant stands sentry in the conservatory’s humid Garden Court.

In full bloom, the plant unfolds to reveal a colorful blossom and a strong odor of rotting meat, both of which last only one or two days. The plant might not bloom again for several years.

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