Corpse flowers smell awful, but this did not stop thousands of visitors who came to the Chicago Botanic Garden to admire the giant corpse flowers this week. To see two corpse flower bloom at the same time is a very rare event and it has never happened in North America before.
The corpse flower (Amorphophallus titanum), also known as the stinky plant, is very rare. The giant plants are some of the world’s largest and they occur naturally in just one place on Earth—the Indonesian island of Sumatra.
The smell of the corpse flowers reminds of rotting flesh. Humans may find it unpleasant, but it certainly attracts pollinating beetles and flies. The corpse flower does not have an annual blooming cycle. The titan arum emerges from, and stores energy in, a huge underground stem called a “corm.”
The plant blooms only when sufficient energy is accumulated, making time between flowering unpredictable, spanning from a few years to more than a decade.
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.
Corpse flowers are threatened by deforestation, and botanic gardens around the world are cultivating and preserving them.
This week something very extraordinary happened. Visitors could admire two giant corpse flowers that bloom.
“Having twin corpse flowers both bloom at the same time is very rare,” said Greg Mueller, chief scientist at the Chicago Botanic Garden.
The Chicago Botanic Garden checked with its counterparts around the world and found only a handful of times that such an event has happened, and it has never before occurred in North America.
“This is one of these plants that are just so exciting,” Mueller said.
The garden will continue to display the plants until June 8, and expects to draw many more thousands of enthusiasts come to observe the huge structures, even though the flowers have already closed back up, and are beginning to wilt.
But even more exciting for scientists, they have managed to pluck away precious seeds to send to other gardens.
The corpse flower first became known to science in 1878. In its natural habitat, the tropical rainforests of Sumatra, Indonesia the titan arum can grow up to 12 feet tall.