An awful stench is wafting from the Huntington BotanicalGardens in San Marino, California, because theAmorphophallus titanum, the smelliest flower in the world,has bloomed. The flower’s fragrance has been described as across between excrement and rotting flesh. Conservationassistant Brendan Craughwell says, “As the A. titanum openedup, the rancid fish odor it emitted could be smelled 20 feetaway.”

The Huntington flower began to unfold its giant red petalsearly in the morning, and by early afternoon, it had spreadto 2 feet wide. “Several staff members and others associatedwith the Huntington braved the noxious fumes to stay andwatch the bloom progress,” says Craughwell. “We toasted itwith white wine and crackers. The process is so quick thatonce flowering begins, the changes can be detected whilesitting and watching.”

The plant, also known as Titan Arum or the “corpse flower,?grows only in Sumatra. It is not naturally self-pollinating,since its male parts mature too long after the female parts,and this makes the cultivation of single plants difficult toachieve. In the rainforests of Sumatra, they attractpollinators such as beetles and bees. At places like theHuntington, artificial pollination is needed.

“When the bloom opened the female flowers became visible atthe bottom of the tall spadix in the center,” saysCraughwell. “These become receptive to pollen soon afterblooming. They will be pollinated with fresh pollen sent tous by the University of Wisconsin. They recently had a bloomand, following the botanical tradition of sharing material,have kindly donated the pollen to us. We received it byFedEx on Monday morning.? The pollen will be applied to thefemale flowers using a cotton swab. Hopefully, the plantwill bear fruit and produce seeds so that new plants can begrown.

This is only the 2nd time the Huntington flower has bloomedin 3 years. 2002 has been a big year for the flower, sincespecimens have bloomed in the past few months at theUniversity of Wisconsin and the Royal Botanical Gardens inthe U.K., as well as in Atlanta and Germany. Since one ofthe flowers first bloomed in the U.K. in 1889, it?s bloomedthere less than 10 times and less than 20 in the U.S. So whyhas it been so active this year?

“It is really difficult to say,” says Kathleen King,collections and science co-ordinator at Kew Gardens in theU.K. “They pretty much look after themselves; it’s just whenthey are dormant they need to be kept dry. I like the theorythat our success was down to the plants being in bigger potsbut then you look at other people’s containers and they arenothing like as big as ours. So why there have been allthese recent flowerings is hard to say.”

Don?t let the nasty sights and smells of life get youdown?learn ?Inner Peace? from StevenHalpern,clickhere. Steven was on Dreamland August 10.

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