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Lot Lines – the Official Blog of Outdoor Design Group, Colorado Landscape Architects

What’s That Stench? – The Corpse Flower & Other Fetid Flowers

This past August, the Denver area was captivated by another blooming of a corpse flower (Amorphophallus titanum) at the Denver Botanic Gardens. Large crowds lined up to get their chance to get a whiff of the bloom that emits a fragrance similar to a rotting animal carcass. I was one of the masses of plant geeks who waited in line early on a Friday morning before work, just to get a glimpse and a sniff of the malodorous corpse flower. The first bloom of an Amorphophallus titanum plant doesn’t appear until after 8-20 years of vegetative growth. A second bloom from a corpse flower may not occur until as long as 10 years after the previous bloom. Although this was the Denver Botanic Gardens third bloom of a corpse flower, the rare occurrence for a bloom (along with the plant’s other odd characteristics) leads to a lot of excitement for botanical enthusiasts.

Amorphophallus titanum photographed at the Denver Botanic Gardens on August 31, 2018.

The foul stench of the bloom is not as interesting as the giant size and fascinating form of the flower. This Indonesian rain forest native sports a huge flower (it is actually many flowers, aka an inflorescence, grouped together on one fleshy axis, what botanists call a spadix) that is unlike any flower that grows in North America. In fact, botanists tell us it is the “largest unbranched inflorescence in the world”. The massive size of the flower is the source of another common name for it, the Titan Arum. That common name was bestowed by the British naturalist and TV host Sir David Attenborough for his BBC series “The Secret Life of Plants”. Mr. Attenborough felt that repeatedly calling the plant by its botanical genus name Amorphophallus (Greek for misshapen phallus) was “too rude for television audiences”.

Readers are likely familiar with other plants that bear spadixes such as the common houseplant, the Peace Lily (aka Spathiphyllum, related to the corpse flower, and also in the Arum family of plants). Unlike the inflorescences of the peace lily which are around 6 inches in length, the corpse flower inflorescence can grow as tall as 10 feet, although the one at the Denver Botanic Gardens (nicknamed “Stinky”), was probably closer to 4 or 5 feet tall. In the center of the flower is the large and somewhat crumpled looking spadix. Framing the giant spadix, is a wine colored skirt-like apparatus that appears to be a type of flower petal, but in actuality is called a spathe. The spathe is a modified leaf which helps protect the spadix.

Aside from the fascinating scale and form of the corpse flower, the rank stench it produced was curious as well. While viewing the bloom, I would describe the acrid scent as similar to an infant’s dirty diaper. There are several repulsive chemicals released during its peak bloom period. Scientists have recorded a range of compounds emitted by the corpse flower that are also found in limburger cheese, animal feces, stinky feet, and dead fish, along with some other not so foul compounds. The exact foul fragrant mix emanating from the flower might vary hourly from rotting fish to rancid cheese throughout the blooming time. All of these nauseating notes are released as the plant is able to heat itself up to 90 degrees Farenheit, helping to volatilize the stench and get noticed by pollinating insects that might pass by. The increased heat of the bloom is theorized to also give the illusion of a recently deceased animal carcass.

Before we look at other stinky flowers, it is interesting to note that there are about 170 other species closely related to Amorphophallus titanum. Botanists report that many of these 170 species emit various unpleasant odors that range from rotting meat to rancid cheese. And size of flower does not translate to the power of stench. Some of the smaller species stink the most. However, some of the 170 species actually smell pleasant to humans, such as A. haematospadix, that smells of banana, and A. manta which smells of chocolate.

While the corpse flower may get all the attention for being one of the world’s most unpleasant floral scents, there are many other fetid flowers that are lesser known, but are just as notable for their “disagreeable odors”.  Apparently emitting foul odors has been ecologically successful for several species. And of course, what humans may consider a foul stench, a carrion beetle may interpret as a false “dinner bell”.

Now on to the list of a few of the other unpleasantly scented flowers:

Rafflesia arnoldii – Another so-called “corpse flower”, this one is also native to Sumatra, Indonesia, like the other corpse flower (Amorphophallus titanium) that recently bloomed in the Denver Botanic Gardens greenhouse. This corpse flower is quite rare, and is a parasite on the host Tetrastigma leucostaphylum. It is said to have one of the largest (1m wide) individual flowers in the world, and has no roots or leaves. Most of its life is spent inside the stems and roots of its host. Rafflesia arnoldii only becomes visible when its flower buds break through the bark of the host and form into the large flowers, which like Amorphophallus titanium, also smell like rotting animal flesh. Unlike Amorphophallus titanium, Rafflesia arnoldii is very difficult to grow in cultivation.

Frittillaria agrestis  -This flower from the lily family, commonly referred to as stinkbells, is purported to smell like dog feces. It is endemic to California.

Frittillaria imperialis –This is another flowering plant from the lily family, commonly called  “emperor lily”. It’s native to Iraq, Iran and other parts of Central Asia, and has showy blooms that have endeared it to horticulturalists who’ve brought it into wide cultivation. The flowers are said to smell like skunk. Others say they have a “distinctly foxy odor” which repels mice, moles and other small animals.

Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima) – This weedy tree, originally native to China, but now present in many urban and other disturbed sites in North America, emits a slightly unpleasant scent from its flowers. The smell is akin to rotting garbage. The leaves and green stems of Ailanthus also smell unpleasant when cut. The Chinese name for this tree, chouchun translates to “foul smelling tree”.

Hawthorne trees – (Crataegus, various species) These beautiful trees are a useful ornamental tree to have in a xeriscape garden. They are tough and beautiful drought survivors. However pretty the white flowers are in springtime, they do not, in my opinion, have a pleasant scent. Some observers have likened it to being like ‘power bait’, the fish lure. Luckily, it is not a very strong or long lived odor.

Lysichiton americanus – Western Skunk Cabbage. This North American native is a distant relative of the Amorphophallus titanum, as they are both members of the Araceae family. It is native to wet areas of the Pacific Northwest. As the name suggests, it emits a “skunky” odor.

These are just a few of the many unpleasantly scented plants to be found in our world. Perhaps you have one you would place in this group of foul smelling botanicals?

This is the official blog of Outdoor Design Group, Colorado Landscape Architects.  For more information about our business and our services, click here.

 

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7 of the Best Perennials for Fall Blooms in Denver

After a long hot summer in Colorado, the fall season may seem like a time to forget about your yard or garden and start focusing your attention indoors. But fall is a great time for some low-water perennial plants to look their best and shine in your xeriscape garden. The following list of plants take center stage during the fall season, and keep your landscape looking great beyond the arrival of the autumnal equinox.

Anemone (various species and cultivars)

Anemones are a great plant for the shadier areas of your landscape. While not as drought tolerant as the other plants on this list, they grow very well with afternoon shade and a medium amount of water.

Anemone

 

Tall Sedums, various cultivars

The tall sedums are a classic addition to the fall blooming garden. With low to average water needs, they are perfect for most xeriscape gardens.

Sedum

 

Hummingbird Flower, Epilobium canum latifolum (aka Zauschneria canum latifolium)

This cousin of the popular groundcover plant Orange Carpet California Fuschia (also a good late bloomer) has similar dazzling orange trumpet shaped flowers that pollinators adore.

Hummingbird Flower

 

Furman’s Red Salvia, Salvia greggii (several species and cultivars available in the Salvia genus)

There are so many different and wonderful plants in the Salvia genus that are remarkable additions to your low-water landscape. Furman’s Red Salvia is one plant we have raved about many times, and it never fails to keep us captivated by its lovely and numerous red blooms that drape these plants from summer heat to fall frost. One note of caution on this plant would be the hardiness. It is rated as only hardy to zone 6, so be careful where you place it. A warmer micro-climate location in your landscape would be best.

Furman’s Red Salvia

 

Blanket flower, Gaillardia (various cultivars available)

While the blanket flowers bloom more profusely in the heat of the summer, they continue to bloom into fall, bringing their brilliant shades of yellow, orange and red into the shorter days of autumn.

Blanket Flower

 

Goldenrod, Solidago (various species)

Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’ is the plant pictured here. Who wouldn’t mind this kind of fireworks in their fall landscape? This North American native will grace your garden with many panicles of bright yellow flowers. While not as tolerant of drought as some other plants on this list, it is fairly adaptable to most conditions in Colorado. This plant has been unfairly blamed for hayfever and allergies in the past, but scientists now tell us that Goldenrod is not the cause of your fall allergies. It is likely caused by other plants such as ragweed.

Goldenrod

 

Plumbago, Ceratostigma plumbaginoides

Plumbago is an indispensable groundcover. It does well in dry shade, and that is the type of conditions we typically place it in. However, we are finding it seems to be adaptable to sunnier locations as well. The blue-violet flowers that appear on this plant in late summer are eye-catching, as is the red-orange fall color of the foliage as autumn grows cooler.

Plumbago

 

This is the official blog of Outdoor Design Group, Colorado Landscape Architects.  For more information about our business and our services, click here.

 

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Project Highlight: Gateway Village General Improvement District

The city of Denver uses various improvement districts to construct, improve, and maintain neighborhood and commercial areas. One such General Improvement District (GID) has been created for a section in the large Northeast Denver neighborhood of Montbello, and is called the Gateway General Improvement District (GID). We are happy to have been contracted by The Gateway GID in hopes of helping to revitalize the neighborhood by updating the current landscape and introducing more drought-tolerant, colorful plant varieties for areas around the neighborhood. These areas include street tree lawns, detention ponds, a large drainage channel, and the monument sign area. The nearby green space study, as seen below, analyzes the nearby park spaces, most of which are too far from most homes in the GID to be within walking distance. This posed a great opportunity for us to not only revitalize the outdated and rundown landscape around the neighborhood, but to help create community green spaces, by utilizing the barren and unused detention ponds.

 

 

The streetscapes throughout the neighborhood contain endless amounts of water-guzzling bluegrass, along with landscape beds overflowing, overgrown junipers and bare spots where other shrubs have died. Our design has these streetscapes being updated to replace the existing sod and desolate landscape beds with drought tolerant shrub varieties and rock mulch to reduce irrigation requirements while also providing a cohesive and interesting landscape year-round.

 

 

In the detention ponds around the neighborhood, our landscape designs aim to incorporate a more usable lawn space with pedestrian access, as well as add colorful, xeric varieties of shrubs and trees to the perimeter of the pond at street level to increase passerby interest and beautify the area. These ponds present a huge opportunity to provide nearby families with accessible parks. Two of the detention ponds are located directly across the street from two elementary schools in the neighborhood. These particular ponds presented us with a huge opportunity to not only turn these unused areas into park spaces, but educational learning landscapes as well.

 

We collaborated with Denver Public Schools to incorporate interesting educational elements and various ecosystems that will coincide with lesson plans made by teachers. Ecosystems include a wetland ecosystem where students can do water testing and observe the various birds and insects, as well as a dryland ecosystem featuring drought tolerant, native Colorado plant varieties. Other educational elements include a pollinator garden that will feature colorful shrubs and perennials attractive to bees and butterflies, demonstrating the importance of pollinators.

 

 

A boulder garden can also be found in the new educational landscape designs with an array of boulders showcasing Colorado’s diverse geology. To offer a more structured outdoor classroom, we have designed the detention pond slopes to incorporate an amphitheater with siloam stone slab seating. To top it off, children can follow a concrete pathway painted with the planets from our solar system, down into one of the amphitheaters.

 

 

With the Gateway Village General Improvement District being large in scope, we hope to reach a vast majority of the community at and positively impact them with all of these desired improvements.

This is the official blog of Outdoor Design Group, Colorado Landscape Architects. For more information about our business and our services, click here.

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