Something stinks in Texas. A rare “corpse flower” is set to bloom any moment at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. The nickname stems from the similarities the flower’s aroma shares with the stench of decomposing flesh. A bloom is rare, and some plants can go ten to fifteen years and never bloom.
When “Lois” (as the plant is named) opens in Houston it will be only the twenty-ninth such bloom in the United States. To learn more about this rare, foul bloom and the attention surrounding it, Big Think spoke with Zac Stayton, the horticulturist at the Houston Museum of Natural Science tending to Lois.
“It’s opening up right now,” said Stayton, adding that while the bloom has been slow, it is now almost one-third open. “We’re expecting either by late tonight or by tomorrow afternoon that she will be fully open, and fully smelly,” he said.
Originally from Sumatra, the Amorphophallus titanum is very endangered in the wild due to deforestation. Even in cultivation it remains a very difficult plant to grow, and it is hard to predict when, and if, it will bloom.
"We’ve had ours for six years," said Stayton, "We got it as a one-year-old tuber, and at that point it was about the size of a walnut. Now that tuber is the size of a basketball and weighs about thirty pounds."
Stayton described the smell when the plant booms as “cooking cabbage and a dead rat in the wall, a mixture of the two,” adding, “It’s very foul.” The strong, unpleasant smell attracts the plant’s pollinators, flies and carrion beetles, which think it signals rotting meat.
When the plant blooms, Stayton said, the outer part will peal back to form a “giant collar” of deep burgundy-purple. The hollow center spike holding the putrid gas can heat up to near human body temperature to aid in emitting the smell, Stayton said. Follow Lois for yourself here.