The Smell of Death

Have you ever seen the infamous Corpse Plant? Or, perhaps, the better question is: have you ever smelled the odor emanating from a Corpse Flower in bloom? It is said to emulate the smell of death, of rotting meat!

The botanical name for this huge smelly plant is Amorphophallus titanium.

Knowing I was a plant enthusiast an avid gardener, and a trained master gardener volunteer, one of my son’s third-grade teachers once asked if I had ever seen (or smelled) one of these plants. My answer at the time was no. But, now, after last Monday, I can answer affirmatively!

My husband and I visited the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens on Monday, July 11th. Looking for something to do, my husband suggested it. I was thrilled because I had just seen that their resident Corpse Plant was getting ready to bloom. And, blooming means it will also really smell! It will smell bad. Bad, rotting odors will fill the room where the plant is on display.

“Oh, good,” I responded at his suggestion. I’ve always wanted to see a real live corpse plant” (pun intended)!

I also cannot ever recall visiting the Botanical Gardens in Buffalo, New York where we lived for seven years. But, I was not a gardener, master gardener, or environmental educator at the time. Taking interest in anything unusual and awe-inspiring in our natural world is now a large part of who I am. And then I like to share the information.

We bought our tickets online – the gardens preferred people to do this so they can control how many are in the buildings at one time. They were not inexpensive at $14.00 each but we know how much it takes to maintain gardens and displays within these greenhouses. Plus, this is my “kind of thing.”

As we checked in at the desk, the ticket agent gave us our map and told us to please bear to the left so that the last thing we would see would be Morty Jr. the Corpse Plant. We wound through the buildings, admiring all the themed rooms. There were palms, tropical plants, medicinal gardens, ivy and ferns, and cacti. The visit will provide a lot of fodder for future posts.

As we got to the end, there was Morty, Jr. waiting for our admiration. The stench was minimal when we saw the plant as it had not opened into a flower yet. But, we knew it was close. The stench lasts 24-48 hours and serves to attract pollinators. This is no surprise, is it? What fly wouldn’t love the smell of rotting meat?

The Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens have been growing corpse plants since 2014, according to their handout. They’ve had fun naming the plants with names from the Adams family – starting with Morty, Fester, and Morticia. Now, there are Morty Jr., Pugsley, and Wednesday. We saw these last three plants but Morty Jr. was the corpse plant ready to bloom.

Bloom and stick Morty Jr. did – only hours after our visit on July 11th. I can’t say I’m disappointed that I missed the smell. But, I am glad I got to see a “real live corpse plant!”

Here are some brief facts about corpse plants:

Sources: Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens (2022)

Live Science: Corpse Flower: Facts about the smelly plant (2021)

Corpse plants are listed as internationally endangered.

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