ST. LOUIS—A rare "corpse" flower has bloomed at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, but those who get close enough for a look should prepare for a bouquet that is not in the slightest bit floral.
Garden officials say the flower began blooming Monday and will maintain its full form for about three to five days.
In the first 24 hours, the plant gives off a rotten smell. It maintains its bloom for three to five days. Peak bloom—and the worst of the odor—lasts just 24 hours or so, the putrid smell emitted from a tall spike of small crowded flowers. The plant grows up to 6 feet tall and can be up to 3 feet wide.
Amorphophallus titanum is the species name, but the tall and rare plant is more commonly known as the titan arum, or “corpse flower.” One whiff is all the explanation necessary—when another corpse flower bloomed earlier this year at the University of California, Santa Barbara, the university described the smell as “a cross between rotting flesh and Limburger cheese.”
Botanical Garden officials say few corpse flowers exist except in the wild, in a small area of Southeast Asia. Those that have been cultivated bloom only under controlled conditions inside a greenhouse, necessary to ensure the warmth that is vital to the process. The plants can bloom as often as every two to three years, or as infrequently as every 10 years.
Spokeswoman Holly Berthold said fewer than 160 flowerings have been documented worldwide over the past 120 years. Most of those have been in recent years as the botanical community’s interest in the plant has increased.
The plants stand 3 feet tall, but the bloom itself can add another 3 feet of height. The Missouri Botanical Garden collection includes eight corpse flower specimens. One other bloomed last year and two more bloomed in 2012, drawing scores of visitors.
One of the plants bloomed on its own in 2012 at the Botanical Garden while the other was the result of manual pollination by horticulture staff. In October, pollen was brought in from the outside to try another manual pollination.
The Missouri Botanical Garden, which opened 154 years ago, is a center for science, conservation, education and display of horticulture.