Whew! What’s that smell? Before you point the finger at a skunk or start looking around for dirty socks, consider that the source of a bad odor might just be a flower. If you’re thinking about giving a bouquet to a loved one, you might want to skip these two: they are notorious for smelling very badly.
The world’s largest, stinkiest flowering plant is native to the Sumatran rainforest and rarely flowers in cultivation, but when it does, it gets a lot of press and crowds flock to get a whiff (see video, below).
This giant stinker is the Amorphophallus titanium, better known as Titan Arum, or simply the corpse flower, because of its death-like smell. There were fewer than 20 documented blooms of the Titan Arum in the U.S. between 1939 and 2006. From the University of California Davis Botanical Conservatory’s “Tabitha the Titan” to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s “Baby,” this magnificent species has captured the hearts and noses of the plant-loving public whenever it decides to bloom. And bloom it does: the corpse flower’s blossom, which is really made up of numerous smaller flowers, can grow to more than eight feet in height, opening as wide as 4 feet in diameter.
When in flower, it exudes a stench akin to rotting meat. The smell doesn’t last long, because although it takes its sweet time coming to its stinky fruition blooming just once every two to five years–the flower only lasts a few days. The super-sized stinker uses this odor to attract pollinating insects the same way sweet-smelling flowers do. But this flower attracts flies and carrion beetles that think the pungent fumes means food.
Another beautiful stinker native to the east and northeastern areas of North America is the purple trillium or Trillium erectum. This smelly species is commonly known by the pretty name of Wake Robin, which it earned by being one of the first blooms of spring, and its not-so-pretty-name of Stinking Benjamin because an odor of rotting flesh surrounds this low-growing perennial. Think of the smell as a protective device that discourages hikers from picking trillium, which are rare and protected in many parts of the country.
Judy Kneiszel is a freelance writer from De Pere, Wisconsin. She contributes to regional and national magazines and newsletters, writing on a wide variety of topics including food, farming, health, renewable energy, and running a small business.