HomeBlocksFront-Grid‘Corpse Flower’ Radiates Pungent Beauty

‘Corpse Flower’ Radiates Pungent Beauty

Guests from all over the world visit The Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens to browse through its vast and renown collections.

But on a scorching Monday morning, visitors flocked to The Huntington’s humid Rose Hills Foundation Conservatory for Botanical Science to see — and sniff — a rare, tropical plant in person following days of closely watching the infamous pod on the organization’s website.

It’s a special bud called Titan Arum, or “amorphophallus titanium,” native to Sumatra, Indonesia, and is known for its blooming process and particular smell, described as a putrid stench. It’s recognized as the world’s largest inflorescence, which is more often referred to as the plant’s flower.

For many, however, it’s simply known as the “corpse flower.”

“I always livestream it, so I’m very excited to finally see it in real life,” said Pasadena resident Stephanie Lin.

She was joined by her husband, James, and her mother, Josephine Chow.

“We’ve been tracking this ever since they posted it,” James Lin said.

“This is basically the main surprise for us,” Stephanie Lin added.

Chow was in awe of the plant’s glowing, vibrant shade of light green exterior that blends with a bold, magenta and maroon hue interior.

“It’s beautiful — so beautiful,” Chow said. “It doesn’t look real to me.”

As much as Monday’s visitors wanted to see the plant open its petals to showcase its beauty, what they really wanted to experience was the notorious, pungent odor it releases upon bloom.

“The closest thing I could compare it to is if you forget to take out your trash and it’s just full of vegetables and leftovers and just all kinds of funky stuff — that’s what it smells like to me,” conservatory gardener Bryce Dunn said. “Or if you’ve been behind a restaurant and you smell their big dumpster — that’s spot on.”

Indeed, the flower smelled like garbage sitting out in the hot sun for days, but, luckily, for guests who braved the triple-digit weather on Monday to experience the rare occurrence, the stench wasn’t all too powerful.

Dunn, who has been the conservatory gardener for more than a year, said this specific bud was a nighttime bloomer, meaning its most pungent odor was released overnight as visitors slept. Those curious about the scent had to sniff closely to catch a whiff on Monday.

Dunn said that 43 corpse flowers currently call The Huntington’s greenhouse home, while a handful of six or seven sit in the conservatory. It’s listed as an endangered species with less than 1,000 left in the wild, he said.

Since 1999, The Huntington has had one corpse flower bloom every year, Dunn said. The Huntington is one of the first organizations to start caring for the plant and set seeds for it.

The corpse flower blooms from an underground corm, which looks like “a giant bud without any foliage,” according to The Huntington’s dedicated website about the plant.

When it’s in its vegetative state, it produces one, single giant leaf that stands about 12 feet tall with leaflets popping out of the stem, much like “a slender, green palm tree,” according to the website. The leaf lives for about 10 to 14 months before it reverts to its corm stage.

That cycle repeats, but on a rare occasion, a corm can develop into the reproductive “flower” stage, which produces an inflorescence, or a specialized structure that supports small individual flowers.

The anatomy of the inflorescence is divided by the tip called the spadix and a base called the spathe. The very bottom of the spathe contains hundreds of flowers which attract carrion flies to pollinate it. That’s where the smell originates, and that’s where conservationists would be able to pick out the seeds to grow more of the endangered species.

“The corpse flower produces the most massive unbranched inflorescence of any flowering plant,” according to the website.

The corpse flower towers in height as it blooms. It grew more than two feet during the 13-day process, from 32.75 inches to 59.5 inches, when it gracefully blossomed Sunday afternoon.

The plant officially bloomed at 12:18 p.m. Sunday after tacking on another two inches of growth. Between Aug. 20 and Aug. 23, the flower averaged nearly two inches of growth, and slowed down to about a quarter inch before Sunday. Conservatory officials say when the plant’s growth shrinks, it’s nearing bloom time, which spans over a period of about 40 hours.

Guests were already inside the conservatory when The Huntington officially opened at 10 a.m. on Monday, and after just 10 minutes of operation, conservatory officials roped off the blooming plant as the room reached capacity. Soon after, a line stretched out the door as eager visitors waited to see the famed bulb.

Katie Neith of Highland Park beat the wait. Neith was following the livestream throughout the week, and when she realized the plant was near bloom, she booked tickets on Saturday for a Monday visitation.

“It looks like a sculpture, it doesn’t look real,” Neith said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s beautiful. I would love to experience that juxtaposition between the beauty and the smell.”

San Marino resident Alice Lin and her husband, Jerry, were able to sneak a sniff before Huntington officials roped off the main attraction.

“It’s a little funky,” said Jerry Lin of the scent. “It’s a little rotten smell. A little barnyard funk.”

“I thought it was [going to be] a lot worse,” Alice Lin added.

First published in the Aug. 31 issue of the San Marino Tribune

Photos by Vincent Nguyen / The Review // San Marino resident Jerry Lin snaps a photo of the “corpse flower” on his visit to The Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens on Aug. 28. The rare bud from Indonesia undergoes a blooming process that spans about 40 hours.


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