Corpse flower about to stinkin' bloom at San Diego Botanic Garden
Something rotten-smelling is happening soon at the San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas.
"They smell awful," said Ari Novy, president and CEO of the San Diego Botanic Garden. "In fact, it smells a lot like rotting flesh."
And he couldn't be more excited about it.
The putrid smell won't be coming from something nefarious but something rather innocuous — a giant flower. In this case, the titan arum or corpse flower, as it is better known.
"We tend to think of flowers as smelling good to attract pollinators, but actually a lot of insects like what we think of as bad smells," Novy said. "And so this particular flower, it has evolved to smell terrible."
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Just how bad is the smell? Well, Novy painted a rather vivid scene.
"So my favorite description of this plant smell is that it smells a lot like you saved up your dirty laundry clothes for a couple of weeks," he said. "You put them in a garbage bag. You also threw in some dead fish and some rotting hamburgers. And then you put that all by the side of the road somewhere really warm, like Borrego on a 110-degree day for 12 hours."
And each time it flowers, it's an event because the plant blooms infrequently. And once it blooms, there are only 48 hours for the public to enjoy all of its stinking glory.
This is why there's so much excitement at the San Diego Botanic Garden. It could take up to 10 years for a plant to bloom for the first time and anywhere between four to five years for it to bloom again. The garden has several corpse flower plants, but the last time this particular plant flowered was in 2018.
And the plant is endangered. There are an estimated 1,000 plants left in its native Sumatra, an Indonesian island south of the Malaysian peninsula.
"It wasn't considered endangered for a long time," Novy said "But unfortunately, the combined effects of, especially development and agriculture, and some of the other challenges that we have out in the environment right now are really starting to take a toll."
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The San Diego Botanic Garden is working with other gardens in the world to preserve the species. Once this plant blooms, the garden will hand pollinate using pollen from the two plants that bloomed in July at the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens in Los Angeles County.
"What the Botanic Garden Network is doing is that we have been growing these plants within our networks for a long time, so that we have a repository of them that can be used for reintroduction and repatriation and growing in all kinds of different ways," Novy said.
And because the plant bloom so infrequently, news that the one in Encinitas is about to bloom is attracting people from all over. One of them is Daniel Szaniszlo, who is originally from Hungary but is now living in San Diego by way of Seattle. He has never seen a corpse flower in person before.
"I think it's incredible," he said. "Yeah. So it's huge. I was thinking it is smaller a little bit. I was checking it on the live webcam, and for me, it looked like a little bit smaller, but I didn't know it's like this huge."
While the bloom may look like it's one giant flower(and it's been described as the largest flower in the plant kingdom), it actually is an inflorescence or a cluster of flowers arranged on a single stem.
Nambe Acevedo-Sanchez, 8, who is visiting from Oxnard in Ventura County, is equally enamored by the giant flower. He, too, has never seen one in real life. He said it looks like a giant cabbage.
"Well, I think it's cool to see like a plant that big — besides trees — but that's a cool plant," he said.
His father, Antonio Sanchez, had the pleasure of seeing the Huntington Gardens flower in person about five years ago. He said the flower lives up to its name. He said it smells like feet and rotting meat. Still, he is in awe of the flower, which could grow as much as 6 inches in one day.
"Just to see it," he said. "It looks like clay right now. It looks like someone has molded the flower. It's so pretty to look at. It's just intense."
While the flower is not yet in full bloom in all its putrid glory, Novy said it's expected to bloom any day now. People can follow the plant's progress on the 24-hour livestream the Garden set up. Once it blooms, the Garden will open with extended hours to give people a chance to experience the smelly blossom.
And San Diegans will have a second chance to experience the stinking beauty. The flower's sister plant is expected to bloom a few weeks later.