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Reeking ‘corpse flower’ is poised to bloom at Huntington Library

stinky
Connie Louie smells the Amorphophallus titanum — “corpse flower” — at the Huntington Library gardens in August 2002.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Its stench is not reminiscent of any one thing. Rather, it offers its own distinct aroma, a bouquet of sweaty feet, rotting fish and boiled cabbage.

People love it.

We’re talking about the Amorphophallus titanum, known as the corpse flower, and it is expected to unfurl at the Huntington Library botanical gardens in San Marino any moment now. The bloom watch began on July 25.

While the Huntington greenhouse boasts more than 50 corpse flowers, the plant has bloomed there just five times since 1999. That year, it drew more than 12,000 visitors, according to Huntington spokeswoman Lisa Blackburn. It was the first time a corpse flower had liberated its odeur de death in California.

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The blooms are rare and unpredictable, usually occurring every five to 10 years. The last time Huntington saw a bloom was in 2014. And this is the first time this particular corpse flower will blossom, Blackburn said.

If the flower chooses to make its debut in the afternoon, the Huntington will extend its hours into the evening for members. The public can breathe in the stinking spectacle during regular hours, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The corpse flower’s scientific name translates to “giant, misshapen phallus,” and there’s no wonder why. Its central column, the spadix, can reach more than 6 feet and is surrounded by a scarlet skirt of petals known as the spathe. When the spathe finally unfurls, the chartreuse spadix heats up to about 90 degrees and releases a rancid blend of chemicals.

In its native environs, the plant’s perfume mimicking decomposing carrion attracts pollinators like dung beetles, sweat bees and flesh flies, which crawl into the flower and get covered in its pollen. Finding no meat to feast on, the insects fly away and spread the pollen across the rainforests of Indonesia’s Sumatra island.

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Huntington’s soon-to-bloom flower is relatively short, measuring in at 3 feet, 7 inches tall on Tuesday, but is expected to be just as malodorous as its predecessors.

If you want to track the corpse flower’s progress, follow the Huntington’s Instagram page and Twitter feed @TheHuntington, where it is referred to lovingly as “Li’l Stinker.”

laura.newberry@latimes.com | Twitter: @LauraMNewberry


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