World’s Smelliest Flower is in Bloom at London’s Kew Gardens

Visitors to London’s famous Kew Gardens recently had the rare opportunity to witness the blooming of the titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum), also known as the “corpse flower.” This massive plant species produces the largest unbranched flower in the world, reaching up to 3 meters (9.8 feet) tall.

One titan arum specimen burst into bloom earlier this month, with another plant also expected to flower soon. Though a spectacular sight, these blooms are infamous for their putrid smell, reminiscent of rotting flesh – hence the name “corpse flower.”

Corpse Flower

The pungent odor and heat generated by the flower serve an important purpose: attracting pollinators like flies and beetles from up to a kilometer (half a mile) away. In cultivation, however, the flowers are more likely to be hand-pollinated by botanists.

The blooming event is the culmination of years of energy storage by the plant in an underground stem base called a corm. This stored energy powers the erection of the enormous inflorescence, which lasts only around 24 to 48 hours on average.

Despite their offensive odor, titan arum blooms have captivated audiences for centuries. The first cultivated bloom in 1889 was considered an “inappropriate sight for women” due to the plant’s name, which translates to “giant deformed penis” – a resemblance that offended Victorian sensibilities at the time.

Today, while still attracting spectators with their bizarre biology, corpse flower blooms have become more common in conservatories worldwide. Thanks to the internet, plant enthusiasts globally can now witness this natural wonder at Kew Gardens from a safe distance – away from the infamous stench.

Learn more about the corpse flower.

Copyright @smorescience. All rights reserved. Do not copy, cite, publish, or distribute this content without permission.

Join 20,000+ parents and educators
To get the FREE science newsletter in your inbox!