Some very adventurous people, as well as botanical scientists, travel around the world hoping to see the elusive corpse flower at the moment of its rare bloom. For botanists and plant enthusiasts alike, planning to see one of these magnificent plants in bloom can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Some botanical gardens and conservatories plan blooming events that allow the public to view the bloom as it opens up for just one day. It is said that predicting a bloom is challenging with round-the-clock observation to make sure people get a chance to witness the plant’s slight flowering window. But the encounter is considered a shock to the senses as the color, size, and odor can be incredibly overpowering. For those visitors brave enough to stand amidst the Corpse Flower’s pungent stench, it’s a photo opportunity for the ages.
10 Fun Facts About the Corpse Flower
- The Corpse Flower is native to Sumatra, Indonesia found on the steep hillsides in the tropical rain forest as well as in curated botanical gardens around the world.
- The Corpse Flower is so rare there are only 100 recorded cultivated corpse flowers around the globe and it is considered endangered in the wild.
- Botanists and other biologists who study plant morphology use a number of different terms to classify and identify plant organs and parts. The Corpse Flower is actually an inflorescence with a cluster of flowers hidden at the bottom of its spike.
- The scientific name is Amorphophallus Titanum—which translates to “misshapen giant penis” and casually referred to as a Titan Arum of the Araceae family.
- It has become a fun tradition to name titan arum plants when they bloom. For example, The Franklin Park Zoo in Boston, Mass. has one named Morticia.
- The Corpse Flower, in general, takes about 10 years of cultivated vegetative growth to bloom for the very first time with sporadic blooming after that.
- Blooms will last for only 24-48 hours.
- Blooms can reach 10 ft in height with leaf structure four feet wide.
- The largest recorded weight up was 258 lbs.
- The stench has been described as spoiled eggs, a soiled diaper, rotting fish, dirty laundry or even day-old roadkill.
A Vapor of Death
Let that stink sink in. The smell of day-old death. The fragrance, if we can put it mildly, of the corpse flower has been compared to the smell of rotting meat or a dead body. The red color and texture further give an illusion that the corpse flower is a piece of decomposing meat to attract beetles and flesh flies that pollinate the flower.
According to Discovery.com,” The corpse flower’s scent is a chemical combination of dimethyl trisulfide, isovaleric acid, dimethyl disulfide, benzyl alcohol, indole, and trimethylamine. The potency of the stench gradually increases from late evening until the middle of the night– when pollinators are most active. The smell tapers off in the morning.”
So Why Is This Smell Important?
Outside of its rarity and botanical significance, the Corpse Flower odor is an excellent example of what it would be like to have to be around and work with a dead body. At some time during their careers, medical students, First Responders, Search & Rescue Specialists and Military Personnel may have to work with cadavers (dead bodies). The level of smell a decaying body emits can cause a physical response that can sometimes interfere with job performance. Immersive training environments help introduce the components that a person might face when handling a dead body. Scenarios can include disaster, accident, or hospital settings that resemble real field experiences. Depending upon the scenario, the state of a dead body or rotting flesh may give off a different or more putrid odor tone. Our scent team at SensoryCo works with olfactory experts to create synthetic smells for such training exercises, including that of vomit, blood, burning flesh…and corpse.
If you want to find out what a corpse smells like, and we don’t want to seem insensitive but clinical here, you have three options:
- Not for the faint of heart, choose a profession that, unfortunately, could cause you to meet a corpse.
- Plan a trip that coincides with the possible bloom of a Corpse Flower (many Botanical Gardens have clues to find out when blooms may occur)
- Work with us at SensoryCo to find out how our scent generators can provide the smell of a corpse to train your field responders to overcome fight-or-flight responses.