Visitors come to see and smell the stinky corpse flower at Orange Coast College

Three years ago, curious crowds turned out to Orange Coast College to lay eyes and noses on a recently bloomed titan arum — better known as a corpse flower.

This week, the plant began its rancid repeat engagement.

Corpse flowers are notorious for the odious odor they emit 24 to 48 hours after blooming.

OCC’s smelly specimen is no different. Since blooming Wednesday night, the plant’s pungent perfume has evoked comparisons to rotten fish, cheese and sweaty socks.

To Jasmine Garcia, a first-year OCC student studying environmental sciences, the plant smells like roadkill.

“I had to come see for myself what it smelled like, how big it was and, obviously, if it lived up to its name,” she said Thursday, after snapping a few pictures.

Did the stench end up matching the hype?

“Yes, yes,” she said, with a laugh. “Definitely.”

April Hampton, office coordinator for associated student government, looks into the base of the corpse flower at Orange Coast College on Thursday.
(Don Leach I Daily Pilot)

The plant’s rotten odor doesn’t only serve to wrinkle the noses of passersby. The smell attracts flies and carrion beetles that pollinate the male and female flowers it holds deep inside a pod, said Joe Stead, the college’s horticulture coordinator.

“There’s not that many that bloom, and it’s fairly rare in habitat,” he said of the plant, which is native to Sumatra, Indonesia. “Plus the look of it is pretty striking.”

While having the plant outside at OCC has stymied the smell somewhat, Stead said it packs a wallop in enclosed spaces like a greenhouse.

“It gives me a little bit of a headache if I have to smell it for way too long,” he said. “Then you go home and your shirt smells like it.”

Despite the odor — or more likely because of it — more than 500 people had already made pilgrimages to the plant as of late Thursday morning.

Some covered their noses and mouths with their shirts as they leaned in for a closer look. Others held their breath just long enough to snap selfies.

This is actually the second time this particular plant has bloomed at OCC, Stead said. The first was in 2014.

Then, it was known as “Little John.” This time around, it’s named “Little Dougie” after Doug Bennett, executive director of the OCC Foundation.

“When I went home and told my wife and daughters about it they weren’t too impressed,” Bennett said with a laugh. “But I think it’s unique. You can have a plaque with your name on it, but to have a corpse flower named after you — I think that’s pretty neat.”

The 14-year-old plant stands about 5 feet tall, surpassing its 2014 height by several inches.

A titan arum typically needs to be at least 10 before it blooms for the first time. After that, it’ll bloom every couple of years.

In subsequent blooms, Stead said, “Little Dougie” will “get bigger and bigger and bigger.” The plants have been known to exceed 11 feet in height.

Visitors stop to view the pungent corpse flower on display courtesy of the Horticulture Department at Orange Coast College on Thursday.
(Don Leach I Daily Pilot)

The flower will be on display from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday on the patio of the Administration Building at OCC. It’s free to view and smell, but donations will be collected to support horticulture program scholarships.

OCC is at 2701 Fairview Road in Costa Mesa. Parking will be available in Lot B — at the corner of Fairview and Arlington Drive.

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