It has been 18 years since a Titan Arum bloomed at Fairchild, and this specific plant — affectionately dubbed Mr. Stinky Junior — is expected to bloom at the garden’s Whitman Tropical Fruit Pavilion, perhaps as early as today.
“It does smell like something between rotting meat and a sort of a latrine smell,” reports Chad Husby, chief explorer at Fairchild Tropical Botanical Gardens. “It’s quite unpleasant. One’s nose can’t tolerate the smell for very long.”
Titan Arum, also known as the “corpse flower,” is native to Sumatra and can reach more than eight feet in height and unfurl to four feet in diameter when it blooms. Though it’s been called the world’s largest flower, it’s technically an inflorescence, which is a group of flowers clustered around a green cylindrical stalk in the middle. They bloom every few years, releasing the foul smell of rotting flesh that attracts flies to pollinate them.
“It’s kind of mysterious what exactly triggers a bloom,” Husby says...mysteriously. “You can’t predict it.”
Husby believes there might be a correlation to hot weather. Less than a half-hour's drive from Fairchild, Zoo Miami announced that its Titan Arum is blooming this week as well. Husby explains that this once-in-a-lifetime synchronous bloom will allow botanists to cross-pollinate both plants in real time. This research will be conducted by Dylan Morales, a rising senior at BioTECH Richmond Heights, the world's only botany and zoological magnet school.
For the plant, it's exhausting process to bloom and then release an extremely putrid scent, Husby notes. "This is a one-night reproductive event that [the plant] prepares for over a few years," he says, adding: "The most intense whiff tends to come at night."
The last Titan Arum bloom at Fairchild occurred in 2003, but the plants from that time have since perished. The gardens acquired three more specimens, of which Mr. Stinky Junior is expected to be the first to bloom. He is only two years old and three feet tall.
Once the plant blooms, visitors will have a brief window to sniff the rare, odoriferous plant.
The last time Husby witnessed a Titan Arum bloom was at the Tropical Bamboo Nursery & Gardens in Loxahatchee in 2019.
"It's always an event to see these spectacular blooms," he marvels. "Some folks took one whiff and had to stay very far away. Others had to control their nausea."