Flowers are well known for their pleasant smell, weather in a garden or in a bouquet it is almost an automatic reaction to hold flowers up to our nose to smell the sweet fragrance. Flowers produce these delightful aromas to attract pollinators such as bees, birds, and bats to make sure there genetics live on through reproduction. But many people do not know that there are flowers that produce a smell which, to humans, is quite offensive.
The flower Amorphophallus titanium, commonly known as the corpse flower or titan arum, has the largest non-branching inflorescence in the world. This flower grows natively in the rainforests of western Indonesia, and can grow about 3 meters (10 feet) in height. The titan arum consists of a fragrant spadix, which is a fleshy stem covered in small flowers, and is wrapped by a spathe or bract, which looks like a large petal. The spathe of the flower is a deep green on the outside and dark burgundy red on the inside with a furrowed texture. Towards the bottom of the spadix are two rows of small flowers, the top row are the male flowers and the bottom row are the female flowers. The female flowers open first and produce a smell of rotting flesh, which gives the flower the name corpse flower. The flower produces this smell to attract carrion beetles and flies that love to feast on rotting meat, the flies think the flower is a dead animal and crawls inside. The female flowers bloom for only a couple of days, just long enough to attract the flesh loving pollinators, and then the top row of male flowers bloom and produce the pollen. As the flies and beetles crawl out of the flower, it no longer smells like rotten meat and is no longer attractive to them, they brush past the male flowers and get covered in pollen. After they escape the depths of the flower, they fly off to where the flower hopes it will find another corpse flower with female blossoms where it will be fertilized and its legacy will continue.
This flower blooms very infrequently in the wild and even more rarely in cultivation. In cultivation, the titan arum requires 7-10 years of vegetative growth before blooming for the first time. It has been successfully cultivated in many gardens across the United States with the first documented flowering in the U.S. at the New York Botanical Garden in 1937 and 1939.