Smelly corpse flower attracts crowd to Missouri Botanical Garden

Greg Stevens

The Missouri Botanical Garden posted on social media Tuesday night something many had been waiting to hear: Luna the corpse flower was finally blooming.

Like pollinators attracted to a flower, St. Louisans swarmed the garden. More than 2,000 people lined up from the parking lot to Luna’s display in the Climatron, meaning some waited more than an hour to get a whiff of the rare, rancid bloom that is only stinky for a day or two.

When the park reopened for flower viewing (and smelling) at 7 p.m., the six-foot flower was still gearing up to put out its call to pollinators. It wasn’t quite as pungent as some had hoped.

“I mean, I can kind of smell it,” said Gavin Macklem. “It doesn’t seem all that bad, though.”

As the night went on, the smell of the flower wafted outside the dome of the Climatron, hitting the line of people talking excitedly over the chirps of frogs and insects.

Flower watchers were conflicted over how to describe the smell. Maybe it was just like the name, “a dead body,” or maybe “brussels sprout toots,” “rotting flesh” or “a leaking propane canister.”

“We smelled it when we first walked in,” said Matt Rosales. “And then as we got closer to the flower, we couldn’t really smell it. But it was pretty rancid. Pretty dank.”

Sequoia Robles chimed in, saying it smelled like rotten meat.

“I’ve never seen a flower or plant like it before,” Robles said. “It’s also just so cool that nature can develop skills like that.”

Flowers put out smells to attract their particular pollinators. For a rose, that might be a human-approved fragrance to attract bees. The corpse flower, formally known as titan arum, blooms at night and aims to attract nocturnal pollinators like beetles and flies, said Emily Colletti, a Missouri Botanical Garden horticulturist.

“So basically the plant itself, the flower itself, is tricking the pollinators into coming to it, thinking that they’re going to have a nice place to lay their eggs,” Colletti said. The plant’s real desire, though, is for the pollen of a male flower to find its way in, she said.

Titan arums are considered endangered in the wild, but there are many successfully blooming in captivity now. They are native to Sumatra, Indonesia, but their habitat is being threatened by deforestation to build palm plantations. Colletti said if people want to protect the corpse flower’s habitat, they can try to limit their use of palm oil.

Luna is a 6-year-old titan arum. It can take up to 10 years for the flower to bloom for the first time, so Luna’s first bloom comes a bit earlier than expected. Blooms typically last only a day or two, and flowers can bloom again every few years. The botanical garden has attracted large crowds for 12 corpse flower blooms since 2012.


Brian Munoz


St. Louis Public Radio

Emily Colletti, a horticulturist with the Missouri Botanical Garden, explains the pollination process for Luna, a 31-pound corpse flower (amorphophallus titanum), on Tuesday.

Early Tuesday evening, a Botanical Garden welcomer, Greg Rohde, was pulling out his phone to show people a picture. Five years ago this week, Rohde took a photo of an infant whose family brought him to see a different corpse flower. He was hoping to find the kid.

Rohde didn’t have to search long. Before sunset, Megan and Brian Thornton made their way through the Climatron with their son, Elliot, the same baby from Rohde’s photo.

“That is too small of a world that we just happened to walk in and then I heard you talking about it at the right time,” said Megan Thornton, Elliot’s mother. “It was like, ‘Wait, that’s us. That’s my 5-year-old right here.’”

Luna’s bloom should last until later Wednesday, but it is already much less stinky. The garden opened early Tuesday morning for viewing, and the Climatron will be open until 7 during tonight’s Whitaker Music Festival so people can continue to see the flower.

Follow Kate on Twitter: @KGrumke

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