A rare plant blooms at Cornell University, drawing thousands of visitors to see the flower and get a whiff of it's unique scent. Our Tamara Lindstrom paid a visit to the greenhouse, and found out why it's known as the "rotting corpse."
ITHACA, N.Y. -- Wafting through sweltering greenhouse at Cornell University is a distinctive odor.
"It smelled like rotting fish. That's how I would describe it."
Ha Nguyen, a visiting grad student said, “To me it smells like blue cheese. A little bit like blue cheese."
Gwynne Lin, a Plant Biology grad student said, “I think it smells like an unwashed urinal with notes of blue cheese, drying fish, maybe a sprinkle of truffle oil. But that's what I think. To my friend it smells like burned broccoli with a hint of death."
A description as colorful as the bloom that emits it, the rare titan arum, also known as a corpse plant.
"When the flower opens it smells like rotting eggs and dead meat, which is why it's called the corpse flower,” said Robert Raguso, Neurobiology Professor.
Native only to the rainforests of Sumatra, cultivated titan arums have only bloomed about 140 times in recorded history. This dramatic bloom began to open Sunday.
Raguso said, “These flowers, their purpose is to advertise, to bring pollinators to help them fertilize their gametes. So what this one is doing is advertising in a huge way. It's like a giant billboard."
And it's working, although maybe not as the plant intended. But in the first day and a half alone, the potent small and colorful bloom attracted more than 3,000 visitors.
Monica Carvalho, a Plant Biology grad student said, “These tropical plants have captured the imagination of a lot of people for centuries. And it's just amazing to see that happens today still."
But it's something these scientists won't see again soon. The bloom only lasts about two days, and happens once every eight to ten years.
"It's waited a long time to bloom and it’s stored up a lot of energy. And it's got an underground storage organ that we call a corm. And so every year it does photosynthesis and it sends all that storage energy in the form of starch underground, and it waits,” said Raguso.
Waiting for the perfect moment to present a stunning, if malodorous display.