In Latin, its name means giant, misshapen penis. But Amorphophallus Titanum (also known as titan arum), in English, is called a corpse flower. The name titan arum was invented by David Attenborough, for a BBC TV show called The Private Life of Plants. This was the first show to film pollination.
Corpse flowers are so named because they are said to smell like corpses. It is believed that the smell is designed to attract insects like beetles and flies that feed on dead animals and lay their eggs in rotting meat. This is believed to pollinate the flower. It's almost like an anti flower. Aren't flowers supposed to be pretty and smell nice? Basically, the corpse flower looks like an ugly penis and smells like rotting meat. The deep red inflorescence even looks like rotting meat. Why do people grow these hideous things?
One reason why botanists seem to like them is because the corpse flower grows the world's biggest flower structures. In 2003, the tallest corpse flower to ever bloom reached a height of 8 feet and 11 inches, at the University of Bonn in Germany. In October of 2005, the record was broken when a cultivated corpse flower reached a height of 9 feet and 6 inches, at another botanical garden in Germany. The record was broken again in 2010 by a man in New Hampshire, whose corpse flower reached a dizzying 10 feet and 2.25 inches in height. We're guessing these people are somewhat less than popular with their next door neighbors.
Can't they just grow giant sunflowers?
A good thing is that the corpse flower only blooms once every six years or so. Since the plants are so large and produce such powerful odors, it takes a while for a corpse flower to save enough energy to bloom. In fact, only 157 blooming corpse flowers have ever been recorded between 1889 and 2008. They were grown through cultivation by eccentric and adventurous botanists. They only grow wild in the equatorial rainforests of Sumatra, Indonesia. But this year in the United States, at least seven corpse flowers have bloomed. It is as if all corpse flowers are blooming at once in America. No one really knows why this is happening, because corpse flowers are so rare that no one has seriously studied them yet.
Could corpse flowers just be getting more popular, in a bad means good sort of way? Do gardeners have better access to corpse flowers via improved pollination techniques?
In any case, if you are near a garden that is growing a blooming corpse flower, you are very likely to smell it. If your stomach can stand the stench, go in and learn something about these strange, unique, and increasingly popular flowers. Remember, they only bloom once every six years. So you never know when you'll get another chance to stare at something that looks like a diseased penis, while sniffing a nasty odor that smells like dead bodies.
Caution: A corpse flower is not a cute corsage for your prom date.