Foul-smelling plant blooms near US Capitol
A titan arum, a huge plant native to Indonesia, went into full malodorous bloom on Sunday evening at the US Botanic Garden conservatory, drawing thousands of visitors seeking to inhale its putrid stench.
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McLaughlin says that it isn't the worst smell that he'd ever gotten off a plant. There are other plants that, if you put your nose close to them, smell worse, he says. But the sheer size of the plants in this genus makes the scent harder to escape.Skip to next paragraph
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"You don't have to stick your head near it," says McLaughlin of the stomach-churning fetor. "It comes to find you."
"It sort of keeps filling your lungs," he says of the plant's nauseating perfume, which ultimately filled the entire building. "It's not the most appetizing thing around dinner time."
'A good reason for botanic gardens'
The US Botanic Garden keeps about 15 titan arums, with the last olid bloom occurring in 2007. The reeking plants tend to be a huge draw for the conservatory.
Condeluci, who described the crowds as "incredible," noted that nearly 100,000 people have visited in the past 10 days, amounting to nearly a tenth of the conservatory's annual visitors.
Condeluci notes that most people lack the resources to cultivate a titan arum on their own, as it requires precisely controlled temperature conditions. "This is a good reason for botanic gardens," she says.
Yet these visiting throngs were probably spared the worst of the titan arum's repugnant effusions, which occurred mostly overnight when when the conservatory was closed.
"What's tough for public gardens is that it only cranks that smell out for eight to twelve hours," says McLaughlin. "We find ourselves in the awkward position of disappointing people by not smelling bad enough."
The noisome plant takes so long to bloom because of the time it takes to store energy in its gigantic underground stem, called a corm. The corm, which can weigh more than 200 pounds, takes several years to accumulate the needed fuel to heat the plant, before it opens up and unleashes its loathsome, pungent miasma.
"It kind of does what it wants when it wants," says McLaughlin.
The blooming period is expected to last between 24 and 48 hours, after which the above-ground portion of the plant dies and the corm enters a dormant period.
By any other name...
The scientific name for the titan arum is Amorphophallus titanum – a term best left untranslated in a family news publication. The English broadcaster and naturalist David Attenborough christened the stinky plant "titan arum," for his 1995 documentary "The Private Life of Plants," out of concern that the BBC wouldn't take kindly to repeatedly hearing the scientific name. "Titan arum" stuck, and the name is now widely used for the foul-smelling species.
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