Nauseating smell of 'corpse flower' draws 10,000 to South Australian botanic garden

Huge crowds flock to Mount Lofty botanic gardens, outside Adelaide, to experience powerful odour produced by rare flowering of the Titan arum

Never has the smell of a rotting corpse been met with so much joy.

Gardeners at Mount Lofty botanic garden, about 18km from Adelaide, jubilantly announced on Monday the long-awaited flowering of the extremely rare Titan arum, more commonly known as the corpse flower for its distinctive and distinctly unpleasant odour.

By 10am on Tuesday crowds of plant enthusiasts and the morbidly curious began queuing outside the glasshouse at the botanic garden for a once-in-a-decade chance to see the stinky spectacle. Within two hours about 10,000 people had flocked to the gardens, a spokeswoman said.

9am #titanarum update: can't wait for you all to arrive! #corpseflower #stinkyBGSA #indah

— Botanic Gardens SA (@BotGardensSA) December 28, 2015

The flower, which hails from the Sumatran rainforest, takes 10 years to grow and can reach a height of three metres, although the Adelaide specimen is just under two metres.

Named Indah (Bahasa Indonesia for “beautiful”) after a competition on Facebook, the plant looked like a giant ear of corn until it unfolded in its putrid glory on Monday evening. It will remain open for 48 hours or so before collapsing into a rotten heap.

Matt Coulter, the garden’s horticultural curator, said he was amazed so many people had queued to see the flower.

“It’s crazy,” he told Guardian Australia. “I thought quite a few people would be interested, but nothing like this.”

Coulter said the signature scent would fade as the afternoon wore on, but the visual spectacle of what was one of the world’s largest flowers was worth the wait.

“It smells mostly at night time, but it still smells pretty bad in here at the moment – sort of like sulphuric gas or rotting fish,” he said.

He said he was a little green around the gills after experiencing the initial blast of the flower’s perfume.

“When I opened the glasshouse this morning it almost blew me away it is so strong. Incredible,” Coulter told ABC news. “I almost had to stop myself from throwing up it was so bad.

“Until you have actually experienced it – it is the first time I’ve actually smelled it – it’s like nothing else.”

The plant, botanic name Amorphophallus titanum, is extremely difficult to cultivate and has been described as “a rock star of the plant world”.

#TitanArum queues are a little longer than anticipated. Thanks for your patience! #Adelaide #adelhills

— Botanic Gardens SA (@BotGardensSA) December 28, 2015

It was given the common name Titan arum by Sir David Attenborough in 1994 because, as he commented in 2008, you can’t just go around calling things Amorphophallus on popular television.

The Adelaide specimen was grown from seed donated to the botanic gardens in 2006, which Janice Goodwins, acting director of the Botanic Gardens of South Australia, said was a credit to the persistence and expertise of botanic gardens staff.

“The Titan arum really is one of the world’s most fascinating plants, and we’re ecstatic the South Australian public have the opportunity to see it,” Goodwins said.

The bloom is characterised, according to a statement on the botanic gardens’ website, by a “giant yellow phallic spike (spadix), burgundy upturned skirt (spathe) and that nauseating smell”.

Staff at the botanic gardens have been excitedly posting daily updates of the flower’s long-awaited opening to a cadre of fascinated fans on social media for the past 11 days.

On Tuesday afternoon the garden said it would stay open until 6pm to allow as many people as possible to see the plant. It may be open to the public again on Wednesday, depending on its condition.


Calla Wahlquist

The GuardianTramp

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