When we think of flowering plants, we normally relate them with sweet scents we’d smell in the garden or essences used in perfumes. However, some plants just smell so bad that flies mistake them for rotting flesh—which is definitely a scent you’d never want to wear!
Titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum), also called corpse or carrion flower, is recognized as the smelliest plant on Earth. Other naturally foul-smelling plants include the 1) stinking corpse lily, 2) starfish flowers, 3) voodoo lily, 4) dragon lily, 5) skunk cabbage, 6) Bulbophyllum orchids, and 7) smelly feet plant.
Did you know that most naturally big flowers stink of death and decay? Do you want to know why? Read on!
If literally translated, the Latin name Amorphophallus titanum could either mean “giant shapeless penis” or “giant misshapen penis.”
Looking at it in bloom., you can easily understand why. What makes the titan arum much more interesting though is that it has been acknowledged as the smelliest plant in existence by the Guinness World Records!
This stinky plant is endemic to the Sumatran rainforests of Indonesia, but it has been successfully grown in other parts of the world like the United States and the United Kingdom.
Also referred to as the corpse flower, the titan arum produces not only a foul smell but also heat. This allows it to more closely mimic decaying dead animals and attract unusual pollinators like flies and beetles that would otherwise feast on animal manure and carcasses!
Some people have likened its smell to rotten meat, to others it smelled somewhat like a dead rat. But if you want to take in its scent at its peak, visit it a few hours after it blooms.
Before it blooms, the titan arum resembles a tree. However, it’s actually just one whole gigantic leaf. After around 8–10 years, it will finally bloom at night.
Once it has fully bloomed, its inflorescence will start excreting stringy pollen which reminds me of those silly string cans.
The flower can stay alive and smelly for up to 2 nights before finally dying down.
Despite being smaller and less understood by scientists, the stinking corpse lily which is more commonly referred to as just rafflesia is no less weird!
Rafflesia is a parasitic plant that sucks moisture and nutrients from its host, lianas (Tetrastigma). It has no roots, stems, leaves, or even chloroplasts. Simply put, it is one of the only plants that doesn’t photosynthesize at all!
This corpse lily only blooms after about 5 years of growing into a gigantic bud, and can only last for at least 1 day for pollination before it dies.
It emits dimethyl disulfide and dimethyl trisulfide, both typically produced by the bacterial breakdown of meat. It also produces benzenoids. Together these give the rafflesia its distinctive smell of decaying flesh.
Others have also compared its stench to that of sweat, garlic, and cheese—much like the titan arum. This very same foul smell helps it attract carrion flies to help with its pollination.
Belonging to the Stapelia genus, starfish flowers are a group of five-petaled blossoms that stink just as much as a variety of carrion flowers.
As their name suggests, these hairy flowers have striking patterns and colors that are similar to those of real starfish found at sea.
They also have spineless cactus-like stems which are succulent. Their rotten scent, however, leaves much to be desired—except for Stapelia flavopurpurea, which smells sweet.
Another smelly arum that looks kind of like the titan arum is the voodoo lily. Others call those the monarch of the East.
This ornamental plant, native to Africa and Asia, grows a mature inflorescence that has a putrid stench that is similar to rotting animal meat. Some also say that it smells quite fishy.
Just like the other unique flowering plants before it, the dragon lily is largely known for its acrid scent.
Nonetheless, its dramatic appearance—with a dark crimson ruffled interior—makes it an interesting addition to the garden.
Though on the smaller side, the skunk cabbage or polecatweed is another perennial flowering plant.
Its mottled maroon flowers open as it matures to release the smell of decaying meat, which gets stronger if the plant is injured. Skunk cabbages attract carrion beetles and flies but repel animals as they cause a burning sensation if eaten.
Orchids belonging to the Bulbophyllum genus are also characterized by their strong but undesirable scents. But some do smell good and fruity.
Most Bulbophyllum orchids, however, smell like poop, urine, blood, and decayed flesh. This allows them to attract flies for pollination.
Last but not the least, we have the smelly feet plant. From its name, you can easily guess what it smells like.
The unusual green flowers of this plant are not only stinky but also waxy.