Rare and infamously stinky 'corpse flower' to bloom in Dunedin, crowds expected

Crowds are expected to flock to Dunedin Botanic Garden to catch a whiff of the infamously pungent “corpse flower”, which is due to bloom any day now.

Dunedin Botanic Garden's Stephen Bishop with the "corpse flower". Source: Supplied

It’s only the second time the rare flower has bloomed at the gardens since it was gifted in 2008, with its last flowering in 2018 drawing in thousands of people. The giant plant can grow up to three metres tall and produces one of the world’s largest flowers.

Winter Garden Plant Collection curator Stephen Bishop told 1 NEWS the smell of the amorphophallus titanum's flower, better known as the “corpse flower”, is comparable to that of rotten meat or rotten vegetables.

“People seem to react to it quite differently. Some people don't really notice much of a smell. Other people, not quite dry-retching, but they find it pretty nauseating,” he said.

The plant’s pervasive smell is designed to attract pollinators like dung beetles and flies. Its rich maroon colour also heats up to about body temperature.

“It’s really trying to mimic a corpse, basically, hence the common name the ‘corpse plant’.”

Bishop said, despite the odour, there was a lot of anticipation for it blooming. He estimated it would happen in about five to 10 days.

“The size of them is pretty spectacular. Also, the smell. Believe it or not people want to come and smell it even though it smells fairly disgusting.

“There’s been a lot of interest so far. So, I suspect there will certainly be good crowds again.”

Its rarity was also a drawcard, he said. Once it flowers, it only lasts 24 to 36 hours. It can take up to a decade for the plant to bloom for the first time, and from then on, it blooms only once every few years.

When it’s not flowering, for most of its life, the plant produces a single leaf, which can grow to the size of a small tree.

“It’s sort of got a bit of a mind of its own, really. We weren't sure if it was going to bloom or just put up a leaf this time around,” Bishop said.

“When the bud started to come out of the ground, it was pretty obvious it was going to be a flower.”

Bishop said after the plant bloomed, it would return to a dormant state and lose “quite a bit of weight”.

“Once it comes out of that dormant stage, it will put on a leaf. It’s a giant leaf. Everything’s giant about this plant.”

However, the species, native to western Sumatra in Indonesia, is vulnerable to habitat loss.

“There is quite a large conservation effort with a number of botanic gardens to try and re-introduce them into some of the lost habitat back in Sumatra,” Bishop said.