August 11, 2006

Foul-smelling bloom a hit in New York

By Chris Michaud

NEW YORK (Reuters) - An arum by any other name would smell
as rank -- so it's just called the corpse flower.

Crowds flocked to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden on Friday to
see what the big stink was about -- the rare blooming of a
cultivated amorphophallus titanum, one of the world's largest
flowers. It also is perhaps the world's most foul-smelling
plant and puts out an aroma not unlike rotting meat or fish.

"I had to wear a respirator," said Alessandro Chiari, a
plant propagator who, along with garden foreman Mark Fisher,
raised the flower from a pea-sized tuber to maturity at more
than 5 feet.

"It comes in waves," Chiari said of the plant's foul smell,
which serves the purpose of attracting hungry bees and insects
that pollinate its female flowers. The plant, also called a
titan arum, does not pollinate itself.

One of the air-monitoring technicians said the smell made
her eyes water and the greenhouse's windows were opened for

As fate would have it, the aroma peaked during the wee
hours when the garden was closed and some who turned out to get
a whiff seemed almost disappointed to have missed its peak.

"It's actually a very organic kind of smell," said Adam
Husted of Brooklyn. "I don't know if it's really putrid

As crowds snapped photos and sniffed the plant, one visitor
said she was "kind of relieved."

"I was a little afraid of something really nauseating," she

The last time a titan arum, native to Sumatra, bloomed in
New York was in 1939, garden officials said. Only a handful
have flowered in the United States in the past few decades.

"It's such a beautiful thing," Fisher said of what he calls
his "baby," which was raised over 10 years from a tiny,
2-month-old tuber that came from a North Carolina nursery.

Resembling a freakishly appealing love child of a
crenelated cabbage and a calla lily, the plant produces a bud
each year before going dormant. Fisher said that a leaf reached
18 feet tall last summer.

But this year was its first flowering, noteworthy for the
giant, phallic spadex that springs from the leaf, which grew as
much as five inches a day.

Like many of nature's most spectacular feats, the corpse
flower's blooming will be short-lived and the plant is expected
to collapse in another day or two. But the garden's experts
have obtained pollen and will manually pollinate "baby." If
successful, that will produce seeds that will be distributed to
other gardens.

First discovered in 1878 in western Sumatra, the plant,
whose name means "deformed phallus," was introduced into
cultivation at the Royal Botanic Garden, Kew, in London in
1889. Because of its appearance, Victorian woman were kept from
viewing it.