Growing in the depths of Sumatran rain forests is what’s known as the Amorphophallus titanium, or corpse flower. Along with its title-bearing status as the largest flowering, single-branched plant in the world, the corpse flower is also regarded as the worst-smelling one, as its rare and beautiful bloom emits a scent similar to rotting flesh. Measuring up to ten feet tall in the wild, this putrid-smelling plant is engineered by nature to attract carrion beetles from miles away to aid in its pollination.
Though it’s only native to Indonesia, the corpse flower has been successfully cultivated in several greenhouses around the world, where the rare occasion of blooming causes a surge in visitors anxious to get a good look (and a reluctant whiff) of the oddity. These controlled environments have seen some staggeringly large blooms, so much so that the colossal New Hampshire-grown stinker featured in the Guinness Book of World Records measured in at an incredible 10.17 feet tall.
There is no annual blooming cycle for this strange plant; it simply waits until there is enough energy built up in its corm (underground storage stem) to start the process of growing one giant flower. This waiting period can range from several years to several decades, but when enough energy is present it grows its protective spathe from which the bloom will emerge. Inside the spathe is the hollow spadix, in which two rings of smaller flowers reside.
These smaller flowers trap the dung and carrion beetles that have arrived, thanks to the warm smell of death that can now be found wafting in the air. The odor usually starts in the middle of the night, and lasts between 4-6 hours at its foulest. The dark red color of the flower, along with the texture and the heat radiating off the spadix, perpetuates the bugs’ notion that they’ve landed on prime, rotting meat. When the bloom is in its fully open splendor, it will last anywhere from 24-48 hours, and then quickly die and collapse.
The Amorphophallus titanium has also been dubbed the “titan arum” by broadcaster Sir David Attenborough for his show The Private Life of Plants, where a corpse flower blooming was captured on film for the first time. He thought calling the plant by the scientific name “Amorphophallus” repeatedly on a family show would be considered inappropriate.