Titan arum, also known as corpse flowers, are close to blooming at the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington. It’s the first time three of the plants — known for their extremely smelly scent — will bloom at once. (Adrian Higgins/The Washington Post)

The U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C., is expecting a stinky first in the coming days as a trio of corpse flowers is due to open and release an odor that would make your brother’s dirty-clothes hamper smell sweet by comparison.

The event would mark the first time that three of the giant plants, also known as titan arum (pronounced TIE-tan AIR-um), have bloomed close to the same time at a North American institution, U.S. Botanic Garden spokesman Ray Mims said Wednesday.

U.S. Botanic Garden

The biggest plant has grown to about seven feet tall and is scheduled to open between Thursday and Tuesday. The Botanic Garden will be open until 10 p.m. once the flower blooms to handle crowds.

“When you’re above it, you need a gas mask. This is really one of the rock stars of the plant kingdom,” said Todd Brethauer, a volunteer who carries a jar with a sample of the odor to give garden visitors a whiff.

The stench from the opened corpse flower, or Amorphophallus titanum, (uh-MORE-fo-fal-us ti-TAY-num) has been called a combination of rotting flesh, smelly socks, garlic and dirty diapers. It is a great draw for pollinating carrion beetles and flies.

Corpse flower blooms, once rare, have become more frequent, with seven occurring this summer in the United States. The increase resulted from the greater number of flowers in U.S. institutions, including 15 or 16 plants at Washington’s Botanic Garden, Mims said.


More visitors than usual have been stopping by the Botanic Garden for a chance to see the corpse flowers. (Adrian Higgins/The Washington Post)

The reek’s main ingredient, dimethyl trisulfide, is known for the strength of its smell and is added to normally odorless natural gas to give it a distinctive smell.

“People think flowers are pretty, they smell good. A lot don’t,” said Jim Adams, the Garden’s horticultural manager.

The interior temperature on a fully blooming flower reaches 115 degrees, heat that helps spread the smell, Adams said. Simultaneous blooms are very rare since blooms occur only when individual plants have stored enough energy in their underground storage organs.

The plant is native to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, and the three that are set to bloom at the Botanic Garden were raised at one of its facilities.

The enormous spadix, or central spike, on the biggest of the three plants attracted visitors Wednesday with its ashy maroon color and the glossy green leaf covering the base.

“It looks prehistoric … like something out of a movie,” said Julie Spack, 30, of Peterborough, New Hampshire, before she snapped a selfie with it.

— From news services and staff reports

A titan arum is seen in bloom at the U.S. Botanic Garden in 2013. (Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press)
If you go

What: U.S. Botanic Garden

Where: 100 Maryland Avenue Southwest, Washington

When: Daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The National Garden is open until 7 p.m. until Labor Day but plans to stay open until 10 p.m. when the corpse flowers are in bloom.

How much: Free.

For more information: Call 202-225-8333 or visit usbg.gov/three-corpse-flower-blooms-usbg.