The name "corpse flower" doesn't exactly inspire beautiful mental images, but what is the corpse flower, anyway? To put it bluntly, it's a plant that smells like a dead body. This stinky flower was first discovered in 1878 and is native to the tropical environs of Sumatra. Known as the amorphophallus titanum in the world science, the corpse flower is one of the strangest plants in the natural world.
In order to attract pollinating insects, it spends a decade preparing to unleash a hideous stench for two days before going back into hibernation. Yes, you read that right - a decade. While this might not be the most practical way to reproduce, it's certainly a theatrical one. Keep reading to learn more about how this botanical beast operates.
The corpse flower can warm itself up to 98 degrees Fahrenheit, or 36.7 degrees Celsius. You might recognize this as being pretty close to the average healthy body temperature for a human being. The corpse flower does this in order attract insects that might want to eat something mammalian, like a dead human body. Those insects will leave disappointed, but covered in pollen that will help the corpse flower reproduce.
The corpse flower get its vivid moniker from to its repulsive stink. A chemical analysis of the smell revealed the following ingredients:
- Isovaleric acid (cheese, sweat)
- Dimethyl disulphide (garlic)
- Dimethyl trisulphide (decomposing meat)
- Indole (feces, mothballs)
- Trimethylamine (rotting fish)
All of this adds up to a scent that's reminiscent of, well, a corpse. During the daytime, you probably won't smell much, but don't walk past one of these flowers at night unless you have a strong stomach. The reason for such a powerful scent is the same reason for the intense heat - the plant is trying to lure insects that feed on decomposing meat.
Gathering enough energy to bloom is a major undertaking for the corpse flower. It first spends several years photosynthesizing and storing the resulting energy in its corm, which is a storage root that slowly grows a massive branched leaf resembling a miniature tree. The corm can weigh as much as 100 kilograms (220 lbs). When it finally blooms, the flower can only sustain itself for 24-36 hours before it collapses.
The bloom occurs in two stages over two nights. During the first night, known as the "female" phase of the bloom, carrion beetles, attracted by the illusion of rotting flesh, deposit pollen into its waiting flowers. The "male" phase of the bloom occurs the following night when the smell lessens. The beetles exit, covered in pollen. Ideally, these beetles will find another corpse flower in its "female" phase, thus aiding in the plant's reproduction. Once this phase is complete, the flowers crumble and fall apart.
This sounds completely made up, but it's true. The scientific name for the corpse flower, amorphophallus titanum, literally translates to "giant misshapen penis." While this does say something about the shape and appearance of the flower, it also says quite a bit about the sense of humor of the scientists who picked out the name.