Accessibility links

Meet 'Mr. Stinky' - 2003-05-14

People typically go to gardens to smell roses and other flowers with appealing scents. But in Miami, scores of plant enthusiasts recently gathered to experience what they say is one of the most pungent, foulest odors that nature can provide.

Allegre Hill, 7, and her mother, Laurie, eagerly wait outside a greenhouse at Miami's Fairchild Tropical Garden. Inside, a mammoth plant known as "Amorphophallus Titanum", or Mr. Stinky for short, is about to bloom. Allegre can barely contain her excitement.

Native to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, Mr. Stinky features umbrella-sized, ribbed leaves that are green on the outside and a vibrant, purplish-red on the inside. The leaves wrap around the base of a yellowish-green, cone-like bloom that, in less than three weeks, grows more than two meters tall. The cone produces an oil that the plant heats and expels through tiny holes as a noxious gas for roughly half a day before fading and eventually falling to the ground.

Horticulturist Craig Allen has been nurturing Mr. Stinky for years. For him, this is a proud moment. Mr. Allen says there is a good reason for the plant's offensive stench. "A lot of orchids and other plants have pleasant odors, and that is great for attracting things like bees. But in the jungle, the rainforest where Mr. Stinky comes from, he might have to attract a pollinator from many miles away," he said. "A strong, foul odor is a much more efficient way to attract a carrion beetle, a beetle that is looking for a dead carcass. Because that is pretty much what he [Mr. Stinky] smells like."

This is Mr. Stinky's third bloom in the past six years. Craig Allen says not everyone can handle the aroma. "We have had people run out. Luckily the restrooms are right across the path from here," he said. "The first year [when Mr. Stinky bloomed], quite a few people got ill. One poor soul went running to the restroom and of course everybody could hear what was going on. She got pretty sick."

For the first few hours of Mr. Stinky's full bloom, onlookers catch occasional, unpleasant whiffs. Then, something changes. Mr. Stinky starts pumping out voluminous quantities of shockingly revolting odor. The stench fills the greenhouse and billows to the surrounding garden. It is prodigiously putrid, offensively odiferous - unsatisfactory for the olfactory (sense of smell).

Onlooker Trish Swinney says there is something morosely humorous about people hanging around a plant for hours in hopes of having their stomachs turned. She adds that having Mr. Stinky around could, on occasion, come in handy. "You know, you have that neighbor that you just do not like, you just cannot get along with. You plant this right next to the fence, and one day it is going to pay off [annoy the neighbors]," she said.

All laughs, coughs, and gasps aside, there is a serious element to Mr. Stinky's tale. Horticulturist Craig Allen took pollen from another "Amorphophallus Titanum" and smeared it over Mr. Stinky's bloom. The goal is to produce dozens of little "Stinkys" and help propagate one of nature's most unusual creations.