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Gross! Smelly Corpse Flower Blooms

The corpse flower. (Image credit: Jeff Hillyer/WIU.)

A rotten-flesh-smelling "corpse flower" — officially known as Titan 3 — bloomed last night at Western Illinois University, the second of these unusual flowers to do so in as many months.

By 9 p.m. CT (10 p.m. ET), Titan 3's green shell opened like an upside-down umbrella to reveal its deep-red bloom, said greenhouse manager Jeff Hillyer, who tends to the foul-smelling plants and has monitored their progress towards blooming. [See the stages of the corpse flower's bloom.]

The plant stands approximately 6.6 feet (2 meters) tall and was 3.7 feet (1.1 m) across when fully open. Over the past 25 days, Titan 3's height swelled more than 5.6 feet (1.72 m) as it neared its blooming stage. In the wild, the plant can grow as big as 20 feet (6 m) tall and 15 feet (4.5 m) across.

The flower is a rare example of the Indonesian Titan Arum (Amorphophallus titanum) plant. Native to the equatorial rainforests of central Sumatra in western Indonesia, it evolved its horrendous odor to attract pollinating carrion beetles and flesh flies, which normally feed on rotting flesh.

The Titan Arum bloom is actually not a single flower, but thousands of tiny flowers, which botanists call an inflorescence.

Titan 3, which weighed 57 pounds (26 kilograms) when it was potted, as well as three other Titans at WIU, came from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2002. WIU's Titan Arums are among the first generation of these plants cultivated in the United States.

"We obtained them as seed, and since then we have been growing them. We were fortunate enough to have Titan 1 bloom in May," Hillyer said. "Titan 2 is lagging a bit behind, but recently Titan 3 decided to take off and produce an inflorescence."

Titan 2 was potted earlier than Titan 3, but Hillyer told OurAmazingPlanet that he wasn't quite sure why it hasn't bloomed yet, but he assumes that it's because 2 is smaller.

"It should bloom eventually, but there are no guarantees," Hillyer said.

As for the smell, Hillyer, who also got a whiff of Titan 1 back in May, wasn't all that impressed.

"You could smell them, yeah," Hillyer said. "It's not the best, but I've smelled worse."

This article was provided by OurAmazingPlanet, a sister site to LiveScience.

Brett Israel was a staff writer for Live Science with a focus on environmental issues. He holds a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and molecular biology from The University of Georgia, a master’s degree in journalism from New York University, and has studied doctorate-level biochemistry at Emory University.