This gigantic flower, native to western Sumatra and infamous for smelling like something rotten, is the corpse flower or titan arum, and it’s not really a single flower. The flowers are at the base of the tall spadix deep inside its red spathe, a modified leaf. Its odor of 30 different chemicals can be detected from miles away, attracting insects like carrion flies who are looking to lay their eggs on animal carcasses, a plentiful resource for food after hatching.

Some of the chemicals have a pleasant scent. The spathe — the red “skirt” — releases a jasmine aroma, for example. But mostly, the corpse flower at first smells like funky cheese and rotting garlic, as a result of sulphur-smelling compounds the plant emits. Hours later, the stink changes to what [UC Botanical Garden Director of Collections and Research Vanessa] Handley describes as “dead rat in the walls of your house.”

Those attracted insects act as pollinators, helping it reproduce with other titan arum plants. This Deep Look episode by KQED and PBS Digital Studios captures the process up close: This Giant Plant Looks Like Raw Meat and Smells Like Dead Rat.

Follow this with this blooming corpse flower time lapse, The Chemistry of Skunk Spray, Durian, the world’s smelliest fruit, and Hydnora africana, the strangest plant in the world?

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