WASHINGTON — What’s purple, green and smells rancid from midnight to dawn? You guessed it, the titan arum. The towering flower released its stench for the first time in seven years as it bloomed Sunday evening at the United States Botanic Garden in Washington DC. As the world attention was focused on Britain's new royal, in Washington people from far and wide came to see and smell the world's largest collection of flowers on one stem.
An American royal was celebrated on Monday. It's called the titan arum, more commonly known as the Corpse Flower. It's famous for its unique odor - something like rotting flesh - which it uses to attract pollinators. Botanist Bob Willeby, at the U.S. Botanic Garden, says it takes a lot of energy for the plant to create such a large bloom, two to three meters tall.
“This is an unusual occurrence, it happens infrequently throughout the United States in the world in general," he said.
It’s becoming more common, though, as colleges and universities acquire titan arums for their science programs. The plant, native to Indonesia, thrives in hot, humid climates.
Anticipation was high when the Botanic Garden announced the imminent flowering of its titan arum last week. But it didn't bloom until Sunday. When the crowd entered the gardens Monday morning, something was missing.
Some of the visitors were disappointed. “It’s not stinky," said one girl.
Botanic Garden Educator Todd Brethauer said the stench occurs in cycles.
“The peak production of the chemicals, based on studies done in Germany and Japan, occurs around midnight and then it starts to taper off about four o’clock in the morning," he said.
This is to attract pollinators, like dung beetles and flies, rather than bees and butterflies. They frequent sweet-smelling flowers.
Although visitors were not able to appreciate the anticipated odor, they were still content to see the incredible plant in all its glory.
Only a few lucky people were able to witness the blooming of the titan. The plant collapses after 24 to 48 hours.