Flowers. We plant them in our gardens, pick them to place in our homes, and give them as gifts to others. And why? Everyone has their own reasons, but if you had to narrow it down, you'd probably say that they looked lovely, smelled lovely, and reminded us of growing, healthy things.
Then there's the corpse flower. That's it up there.
It is pretty much none of these things.
The stench of death
Alright, perhaps you could call it "lovely". Its giant spadix (that's the "horn" in its middle) is a bit alarming, and the rich purple of the flower is pretty. But it all ends there. Because this flower, also known as the titan arum, stinks. As in, it smells awful. People have described the smell as everything from rotting flesh to "1,000 pukes." Instead of reminding us of spring and new life, it smells like death.
And now, this disgusting-smelling flower is suddenly blooming in record numbers. Botanists (aka plant scientists) across the United States are in a tizzy trying to understand why this flower is experiencing a boom.
Should you be afraid?
Will you ever be able to go outside again without running into… the smell??
The answers to those questions are "No" and "Yes". That's because when the corpse flower blooms in record numbers, we are talking about seven blooming in the United States in the last six months. That's right. Only seven flowers. And each flower only stays in bloom for 48 hours at the most. And here we were thinking the plant was taking over!
But in truth, seven new blooms of titan arum is a pretty big deal. That's because between 1889 and 2008, there were only 157 recorded blooms of the flower around the world. Of course, those are just recorded blooms—more certainly happened in the wild that were never noted. But still, that works out to barely more than one bloom a year. Now there are seven already in 2016 in the United States alone. What gives?
Unpacking the mystery
Titan arums can reach 1.8 metres (6 feet) tall. It takes a tremendous amount of energy for the flower to bloom—it happens about once every six years in an individual plant. That answers the question as to why the flower is so rare in the first place. As for why it's suddenly catching on (relatively speaking), some botanists have suggested that the flowers that are currently blooming are all related. U.S. greenhouses (where these blooms are happening), often share and/or buy seeds from the same suppliers. Therefore, these seven titan arums are blooming at the same time because they're like brothers and sisters. But in all honesty, no one knows for sure. The plant is so rare that botanists still have so much to learn about it. Perhaps this event will give them the chance to learn something new.
And just to close: Why oh why would a flower smell so awful? Nearly all others flowers use nectar and sweet smells to attract insects to visit and pollinate them. The corpse flower's foul odour is doing the same thing, but the insects that it attracts are the kinds that feed on dying animals or dung.