Corpse flower
The corpse flower at the Huntington Library. Courtesy of the library

It could be a particularly stinky weekend at the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens.

Sometime over the next few days, an Amorphophallus titanum, also known as a “corpse flower,” is expected to make a rare bloom — revealing not only its colorful maroon interior but its even more notorious smell.

This corpse flower has grown to a height of 3 feet, 3 inches — smaller than the similar flowers that bloomed at The Huntington in 1999, 2002, 2009, 2010 and 2014. But Huntington officials said the current flower’s small size isn’t expected to cut down on its odor.

The plant, native to the rain forests of Sumatra and also known as Titan Arum, is billed as the world’s largest flower, but it is technically an “inflorescence,” or a cluster of flowers. It can reach more than six feet in height when it blooms, opening to a diameter of three to four feet.

When in one of its ultra-rare blooms, it gives off an odor akin to rotting flesh, attracting insects that pollinate the flowers deep inside.

According to library spokeswoman Lisa Blackburn, the blooming plant produces two key gases — dimethyl disulfide and dimethyl trisulfide — that also are present in decomposing animals and vegetables.

What prompts a particular plant to start the blooming process largely remains a mystery, Blackburn said, but the corpse flower tends to bloom during hot weather. Blackburn surmises the recent heat wave that has blanketed Southern California may have triggered the chemical reaction that brings on the olfactory-challenging rejuvenation.

When a corpse flower was first displayed at the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens in the late 19th century, at least one Victorian woman was said to have swooned when she got a whiff of the bloom.

The flower was first displayed in the United States in 1937 at the New York Botanical Garden.

The Huntington’s corpse flower is on display at the garden’s Rose Hills Foundation Conservatory for Botanical Science, which houses hundreds of rare tropical specimens.

The plant that’s primed to bloom is one of 55 of the species now being cultivated at the conservatory.

If previous corpse flower incidents are an indication, The Huntington is likely to receive a leap in attendance as word passes of the upcoming bloom.

“People are fascinated by it,” said Blackburn, a 32-year Huntington employee. “It attracts a lot of attention. It’s the wildest thing, a really large, strange-looking plant and everything about it is wild, including the smell. It causes a lot of curiosity and really piques people’s interest.

The Huntington, 1151 Oxford Road, San Marino, is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

For updates on the bloom, the public can visit the library’s web site at www.huntington.org.

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