The Big Stink: Rare blossoming of corpse flower produces a notoriously pungent odor

Andrew Roberts, left, of Long Beach poses for a photo Sunday while daughter Stella Bear, 11, covers her nose to avoid smelling the corpse lily nicknamed “Phil” at Cal State Long Beach.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Southern Californians were treated to a spectacular wildflower bloom this spring, thanks to an unusually wet winter.

But on Sunday, hundreds of visitors got to experience a rare and unique bloom at Cal State Long Beach.

The blossoming of the Amorphophallus titanum, better known as the corpse flower, is an unpredictable phenomenon that usually occurs every five to 10 years. The flower’s bloom was originally expected to take place May 22 or 23, but instead waited until this weekend to make its debut.

The plant is nestled between the Molecular and Life Sciences Center and the Hall of Science on the college campus.


The flower, whose name translates as the “giant misshapen phallus,” is native to the rain forests of the Indonesian island of Sumatra and is also known as the titan arum. The plant is billed as the world largest flower but is technically an inflorescence, or a cluster of flowers. When it blooms, it can stand more than 6 feet tall and open to a diameter of 4 feet.

The blooms usually last only about 24 hours, but because of the region’s cooler temperatures this one could appear up to 48 hours, officials said.

The unusual flower was nicknamed “Phil,” after R. Philip Baker, a late professor of botany at the university. It is known not only for its rare bloom but also its notorious pungent odor, hence its other name: “Li’l Stinker.” It has been described as smelling like everything from sweaty socks to rotting meat.

Brian Thorson, botanical curator and botany technician at Cal State Long Beach’s biological sciences department, announced the flower’s bloom Sunday with a tweet:


“Phil is finally stinking blooming … Come get a whiff!’'

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