The Corpse Flowers of Sumatra

Dylan Thuras is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Dylan is a travel blogger and the co-founder of the Atlas Obscura: A Compendium of the World's Wonders, Curiosities, and Esoterica, with Joshua Foer.

Carnivorous plants have always held a special place in my heart. Watching a Venus Flytrap catch its dinner still fascinates me. Recently another type of plant that is just as strange and wonderful as the carnivores has caught my attention; Corpse Flowers.

You might imagine that smelling the world's largest flower would be a lovely experience. You would be very, very wrong.

The Rafflesia arnoldii, a rare and endangered plant known as the "giant panda of the plant world" bears the world's largest flower. A parasitic plant the Rafflesia lives most of its life within the roots of another plant. Eventually a blossom breaks through the root, grows up to three feet wide, and smells almost exactly like a dead body.

Known as a corpse flower or Carrion flower the Rafflesia releases a scent that smells like a rotting corpse, and the flowers petals bear a similar coloration to that of rotten meat. And while the flower smells terrible to humans, it smells like dinner to the carrion beetles and flesh flies which swarm all over the corpse flowers helping them to pollinate.

While the Rafflesia gets big, it has nothing on another corpse flower, the Amorphophallus titanum.


Translated from the greek Amorphophallus titanum means "giant misshapen penis," and while the Rafflesia has the world's largest flower, the titan lays claim to the largest unbranched cluster of flowers in the world. At full size the titan can reach 9 and a half feet tall and 10 feet in circumference. The titan also generates a great deal of heat, the tip reaching approximately human body temperature, which helps strengthen the illusion of rotting meat that attracts the meat eating insects. It, like the Rafflesia, smells terrible.

Link to the extraordinary flora category in the Atlas which is in desperate need of more plant wonders, a list of titans in cultivation, and to an online carnivorous plant museum. (Apparently some of my other boingboingers have a love of corpse flowers as well, previous boingboing mentions here, here, and here)