I love to start a new science lesson with some fascinatingly weird or gross fact that really piques my students' interest in the topic.
When it comes to our unit on plants, I always bring out this picture and ask the students how they think it might smell:
After all of their guesses, which are never even remotely close to correct, I share with them that this beautiful flower smells like death - or more specifically, like rotting flesh.
This, of course, grosses them out to the point that they are VERY interested in learning more.
All About the Corpse Flower
The bloom that produces such a foul odor is called the corpse flower. Perfect name, right? It's scientific name is Amorphophallus titanum.
The corpse flower is native to the rainforests of Sumatra, an island in Indonesia. It thrives in the warm, humid conditions of the rainforest.
In its natural habitat, the corpse flower grows to be 10 to 12 feet tall. In fact, it is one of the largest flowering plants in the world. It can have a diameter of up to 3 feet.
The corpse flower is famous for its repulsive odor, often described as the smell of rotting flesh. This odor serves a specific purpose: attracting carrion beetles and flesh flies that feed on decaying animal matter. The insects come in search of food and are tricked into pollinating the flower.
When it blooms, the flower generates heat. This helps spread the strong odor further, attracting more insects for pollination. The temperature of the flower can be as much as 20° F higher than the surrounding air!
The plant is slow-growing and may take several years to produce a single flower. Even then, the bloom only lasts for a very short period of time, usually 24 to 48 hours. This makes it a rare event!
Luckily, you can see (and smell) one for yourself at the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington D.C. The corpse flower on display is expected to bloom sometime around the last week of June this year.