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A Horticultural Compendium of Big Stinkers

The Huntington Library’s corpse flower isn’t the only stinker in the plant kingdom. A number of flowers attract flies instead of bees by imitating the smell, and often the look, of meat gone bad.

Amorphophallus titanum is only one member of the skunk cabbage clan that includes the similar but much smaller voodoo lily, or Arum cornutum, also known as Sauromatum venosum.

Tubers of this little stinker show up at nurseries in January, when you can plant them in the ground or leave them sitting on the table until they bloom, when they briefly smell bad. Just don’t plant any under your bathroom window, as I once did. It took me several days to realize there was nothing wrong with the plumbing.

Stapelia also stink when they flower, “but more so,” said Huntington’s succulents curator, John Trager. Called carrion flower or starfish flower, because of the distinctive smell and shape, the flowers on this succulent are bigger than the plant itself and may look as well as smell like meat. Best grown in pots, they can be found in the succulents section at some nurseries and at specialists. The Huntington has stapelias in their huge succulents collection.

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Another smelly plant at the Huntington is the camellia-like Eurya japonica, which is planted in the Zen court. Its flowers smell exactly like dog doo--an explanation, perhaps, for why it is virtually unknown in the gardens.

The smelliest plant in my garden is the oddly named Kashmir bouquet, or Clerodendrum bungei. It has lovely pink flowers and big tropical leaves that smell like old socks whenever I brush against them. It’s planted in a corner where that can’t happen very often and--believe it or not--this otherwise handsome plant came from the Huntington’s May plant sale.

What is it with these guys and their smelly plants?


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