A corpse flower, which emits a stench that can travel for kilometres to lure flesh flies, sweat bees and carrion beetles, has just bloomed in the Adelaide Botanic gardens. It only blooms once every few years, and only for about 48 hours, to attract insects that have already wallowed in the pollen of another corpse flower.
The rarity of the plant itself, and its flowering, has brought thousands of people to the gardens who have queued for hours to get a mere whiff of its stink.
The endangered plant, Titan arum, native to Sumatra in Indonesia, may look like one flower but it is actually an inflorescence – a cluster of flowers on a stalk. It can grow more than 2 metres high, and weigh up to 150kg and its smell is most commonly likened to dead rats, although smelly feet and stinky cheese are also contenders.
The horticulture curator for plant propagation at the botanic gardens, Matt Coulter, said the miasma when the plant was inside the greenhouse was thick enough to make him gag.
Rainforest deforestation for palm oil in Indonesia has led to the number of corpse flowers dwindling to fewer than 1,000 in the wild, and it was listed as endangered in 2018. In an effort to conserve the species, Indonesia sent seeds to the botanic gardens and Coulter has now started propagating more plants from leaf cuttings.
After Titan arum collapses, the underground tuber goes dormant for up to a year before emerging again as a leaf. Once every few years, it will re-emerge as a reincarnated corpse flower.
According to the Guardian