Most of us have never even heard of a Giant Corpse Flower (Amorphophallus titanium) and then suddenly they are in the news everywhere. Forbes, the Huffington Post and the Washington Post have all written articles recently on this incredibly unusual plant that originates from the jungles of Sumatra.
Corpse Flowers got their name from their distinctive odor – which has been compared frequently to the smell of rotting flesh. Just like sweet smelling flowers, the odor is meant to attract insects to pollinate it, only in this case instead of butterflies we have flies and other bugs that generally feast on decaying carcasses. Not a pretty scent – but it seems to work well for this gigantic flower that blooms only once every 7 to 10 year.
That is where the Corpse Flower mystery comes in. Since Corpse Flowers first began being cultivated outside of Sumatra in the 1880’s only 157 blooms have ever been recorded, since the very first one in 1889. However, this year we have an unprecedented eight Corpse Flowers blooming here in the United States. The latest being August 6th at the Denver Botanic Gardens.
Scientists are trying to puzzle out the reason for so many blooms at one time. The leading theory on this matter is that most of the cultivated Corpse Flowers in the United States are thought to be related, making them possible “siblings” or “cousins . If this were the case it could make sense that the related flowers would bloom at the same time to create better chances for cross-pollination. This would be important in the wild, because these plants are very slow growing, generally only blooming once every 7 to 10 years and the blooms only last a day or two.
If you have the chance to see a corpse flower in bloom it is quite a sight, as well as a scent experience. They produce one of the largest flowers in the world, often reaching heights of 6 feet. And just in case you noticed something interesting in the scientific name – Amorphophallus titanium –it literally means “giant misshapen penis” in Latin. Quite a shocking name for a rare and odiferous plant most people have never heard of.