Skip to main content

Stinky Seduction: Flowers Use Shocking Scents to Attract Bugs

The orchid lures the flies into its carrion-scented boosom so the fly can pick up pollen and deposit it on other flowers.
The orchid lures the flies into its carrion-scented boosom so the fly can pick up pollen and deposit it on other flowers.
(Image: © Dennis Hansen)

Catching Flies With Roadkill

Timotheüs van der Niet catches flies from roadkill to see which might be carrying orchid pollen.

(Image credit: Dennis Hansen)

Timotheüs van der Niet catches flies from roadkill to see which might be carrying orchid pollen.

Smelly Orchid

This orchid (Satyrium pumilum), native to South Africa, attracts carrion-loving flesh flies to pollinate it.

(Image credit: Dennis Hansen)

This orchid (Satyrium pumilum), native to South Africa, attracts carrion-loving flesh flies to pollinate it.

Fly Pollinating Orchid

The orchid has a special smell of roadkill that selectively attracts flesh flies.

(Image credit: Dennis Hansen)

The orchid has a special smell of roadkill that selectively attracts flesh flies.

Pollen PomPoms on Flesh Fly

The orchid lures the flies into its carrion-scented boosom so the fly can pick up pollen and deposit it on other flowers.

(Image credit: Dennis Hansen)

The orchid lures the flies into its carrion-scented boosom so the fly can pick up pollen and deposit it on other flowers.

Blooming Corpse Flower

(Image credit: United States Botanic Garden)

A corpse flower in bloom in 2003 at the United States Botanic Garden. This was the second time the then 10-year-old plant had bloomed; the first was in 2001.

World's Largest Flower Finally Finds Home

(Image credit: Jeremy Holden)

A woman leans over a rafflesia flower, which can reach three feet in diameter and releases a rotting-flesh odor to attract pollinators.

Skunk Cabbage

Skunk Cabbage

(Image credit: William C. Taylor @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database)

The skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) is a member of the arum family, which also includes jack-in-the-pulpit. Pollinators, such as carrion beetles and flesh flies are lured in by the plant's intense heat (which the skunk cabbage generates on its own) and color, which resembles rotting flesh. Its skunky smell also entices these pollinators.

Corpse Flower

corpse flower

(Image credit: Binghamton University)

A rotten-flesh-smelling "corpse flower" named Metis, which bloomed on Sept. 14, 2010 at Binghamton University in upstate New York. Its corpse smell attracts its pollinators — carrion beetles and flesh flies.

Dead horse arum

This plant, called the "dead horse arum" produces the stench of rotting meat, attracting carrion-seeking blowflies which act as pollinators.

(Image credit: Marcus Stensmyr)

This plant, called the "dead horse arum" produces the stench of rotting meat, attracting carrion-seeking blowflies which act as pollinators.