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Belgium’s smelliest flower is in bloom again

13:45 23/05/2024

The famously stinky arum titan flower at the botanical garden in Meise is in bloom again.

The 217-centimetre endangered flower only blooms for 72 hours, so the gardens are temporarily increasing their hours to allow more visitors to witness it in person.

The gardens will be open until 22.00 (last admission at 21.00) on Thursday, with tickets available only at the ticket office.

The arum titan is found naturally exclusively in the jungles of Sumatra. Its scientific name, Amorphophallus titanum, means ‘giant deformed penis’.

“Underground, the plant's tuber resembles a large bulb that can weigh up to 130kg,” the botanical gardens said in a statement.

“Its origin makes the arum titan a demanding plant to grow: a constant temperature of 24°C and high humidity at all times. In one season, the tuber produces either a gigantic leaf, two to six metres high, or an enormous 'flower': 1.5 to 3 metres high.

"The botanical term is 'inflorescence' because the floral element is made up of many small flowers, rather than a single flower."

The odour the plant emits is described as that of decomposing corpses, which is why it is called ‘corpse plant’ in Sumatra.

“Attracted by the scent, pollinating insects rush into the arum and are trapped for a time by the shape of the plant parts,” the gardens said.

“As they move, they cover themselves in pollen. Once freed, attracted by the scent of a second arum titan, they penetrate inside and pollinate it, dropping the pollen from the first arum onto the flowers, and so on. History repeats itself, ensuring the plant's reproduction.”

The scent is powerful in the wild because the arum titans grow miles apart and rarely flower, so every effort is needed to avoid missing the crucial opportunity for insect pollination. The smell is most noticeable at the start of flowering, which lasts just three days.

The fertilised female flowers turn into orange-red berries which birds eat, helping to spread the seeds through defecation.

The smelly flower is endangered in Sumatra, where half the jungle has been deforested. This is why botanical gardens are working to cultivate the rare plant.

The arum titan flowered for the first time in Belgium in August 2008, attracting more than 8,000 visitors to Meise in just three days.

Each time it blossoms, thousands flock to witness the rare event and experience the uniquely horrible smell for themselves.

Written by Helen Lyons