HomeScience & TechLondon's Kew Gardens Sees Rare Bloom of World's Smelliest Plant

London’s Kew Gardens Sees Rare Bloom of World’s Smelliest Plant

London – June 11, 2024 – Visitors to London’s Kew Gardens recently experienced a rare botanical event as a resident titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum), famously known as the “corpse flower,” burst into bloom. Known for its gigantic size and foul odor, the flower’s bloom is a once-in-a-decade occurrence, making it a must-see for botany enthusiasts. Another titan arum at Kew is also expected to flower soon, giving latecomers another chance to witness this natural marvel.

Botanical Spectacle

The titan arum is celebrated for producing the largest unbranched flower in the world, reaching up to three meters (9.8 feet) in height. The plant spends years storing energy in an underground stem base, or corm, before erupting in a spectacular display. However, this visual grandeur comes with a price: a smell reminiscent of rotting flesh, designed to attract pollinators like flies and beetles from nearly a kilometer away.

Visitors to the recent bloom noted that the odor was less intense than expected, which, despite the plant’s notorious reputation, is not uncommon. The bloom typically lasts between 24 to 48 hours, and the first flower has already wilted. The second plant is due to bloom this week, offering another chance to witness and smell this extraordinary event.

Historical and Cultural Icon

The titan arum, native to Sumatra in Indonesia, has been a highlight of Kew Gardens since it first bloomed there in June 1889. Italian botanist Odouardo Beccari brought the species to Western attention after discovering it in Sumatra in 1878. The fascination with this plant grew during the late 19th century when Western colonial powers collected exotic plants as symbols of their global reach and triumph over nature.

Kew Gardens’ first titan arum bloom drew significant public interest and was considered a sensational botanical achievement. The Gardener’s Chronicle, a leading publication of the time, detailed the bloom’s development and the public’s awe, although Victorian sensibilities found the plant’s explicit shape—a “giant deformed penis”—offensive.

The plant’s subsequent blooms, including one in 1926, continued to attract large crowds and controversy, with police even being called to manage the excited visitors. Over the years, cultivated specimens of the titan arum have bloomed more frequently worldwide, yet each event continues to fascinate due to the plant’s bizarre biology.

Modern-Day Spectacle

Today, thanks to the internet, people around the globe can watch the corpse flowers at Kew Gardens bloom from the comfort of their homes. The gardens’ greenhouse replicates the tropical conditions of Sumatra, ensuring the titan arums thrive and occasionally flower, much to the delight of botany enthusiasts and curious visitors.

For those lucky enough to be in London, the second bloom offers a rare opportunity to see—and smell—one of nature’s most unique spectacles. For everyone else, Kew Gardens’ live updates provide a safe and odor-free way to enjoy this extraordinary event.

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