News Column

World's smelliest flower soon to bloom at Loxahatchee nursery

July 14, 2014

By Barbara Marshall, The Palm Beach Post, Fla.

July 14--LOXAHATCHEE -- This is really going to stink.

Sometime in the next week, the world's largest -- and smelliest -- flower is expected to bloom at Robert Saporito's Tropical Bamboo Nursery and Gardens in Loxahatchee.

Saporito expects his rare amorphophallus titanum to top out at about 6 feet when it's blood-red spathe begins unfolding, enveloping everyone within smelling distance in pulsating waves of putrid gas.

"It smells like rotting flesh," said Saporito.

"Road kill" and "the decomposing carcass of an elephant" are two other colorful descriptions botanists have used to describe the reek.

Hence the plant's nickname: the corpse flower.

A flowering amorphophallus, also known as titan arum, is a rare event in the horticulture world, making it a kind of plant celebrity.

At the few botanic gardens where the plants have bloomed, their noxious odor has attracted thousands of curious visitors undeterred by the experience of being enveloped in the scent of decaying meat. About 130,000 came to the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C., last summer for a sniff.

In the past week, Saporito hosted a steady stream of horticulturally minded folks to his tropical bamboo nursery, where his titan arum has a place of honor next to a bamboo tiki hut.

"There's a lot of excited people," said Saporito, sitting out a rainstorm under the hut's roof with the garden's peacock mascot, "Biki," nestled nearby.

Saporito may be the most excited of all. It's been eight years since he planted the seed that is now rapidly sprouting its first bloom.

His staff measures the rapidly growing plant twice a day. On Sunday, its wrinkled green stalk, called a spadix, grew 5 inches. The ruffled petal-like spathe is still closed tightly around its base, although a little burgundy color is starting to show.

After consultation with horticulturalists around the world, Saporito calculates opening day for July 23.

"But it could be a few days before or after," he admitted.

When it opens, the inside of the spathe will turn the color of raw meat and the plant will raise its temperature to close to that of the human body, to go even further to mimic a mammal carcass, as the plant pushes its scent outward, Saporito said. The scent is strongest at night.

After about 24 hours, the flower will close, then collapse.

In its native habit in the rainforests of Sumatra, Indonesia, amorphophallus's noxious odor attracts pollinating carrion beetles and flies.

In Loxahatchee, Saporito will play the role of dung beetle, brushing donated pollen over the flowers opening inside the spathe in hopes of getting fertile seeds.

Even if it hasn't opened yet, he's planning a Corpse Flower Party on Saturday, with food trucks and evening cocktails to celebrate his odiferous oddity.

"Hey, if the smell attracts more than flies," he said, "that's great."

Since other titan arums around the country have been personalized with names such as "Mr. Stinky" and "Audrey" (from The Little Shop of Horrors), Saporito is considering following suit.

Considering the plant's appearance, only male names will do.


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Source: Palm Beach Post (FL)

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