There’s a smell of success Friday at the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens — and it sure stinks.
For only the sixth time in the San Marino library’s history, a “corpse flower” has bloomed at the Huntington.
The 3-foot-5-inch flower — officially known as an Amorphophallus titanum — began blooming Thursday night and finished the job Friday, revealing not only its colorful maroon interior but its even more notorious smell, similar to that of decomposing animals and vegetables.
The flower is smaller than those that bloomed at The Huntington in 1999, 2002, 2009, 2010 and 2014. But Huntington officials said the current plant’s smaller size hasn’t thwarted the force of its odor.
The species, 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 the stench of rotting flesh, attracting insects that pollinate the flowers deep inside.
Library spokeswoman Lisa Blackburn said two more corpse flowers cultivated at the Huntington may bloom in the next few days.
“We have our fingers crossed,” she said.
The typical corpse flower bloom usually lasts only about 24 hours.
According to Blackburn, the blooming plant produces two key gases — dimethyl disulfide and dimethyl trisulfide — that create the death-like aroma.
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 bloomed 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 bloomed has been given the nickname “Stink.”
The two other flowers anticipated to bloom have been dubbed “Stunk” and “Stank,” just in case.
All three plants are among the 55 of the species being cultivated at the conservatory.
“People are fascinated by (them),” 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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