Something to stink about: Plant that smells ‘like a garbage heap in high summer’ blooms at Kew for only the third time

Two rare plants (Titan arum and Aristolochia goldieana) are both in bloom at the world famous gardens, but you'll have to be quick, as the flowers will only last for 48 hours.

The biggest and smelliest flower in the world has bloomed at Kew, in news that is both good and bad. It’s good, because this rare flower takes several years to grow, and can reach some three metres in height. It’s bad because it only blooms for about 48 hours, which means that by the time you’ve read this, it’s probably too late to go and see it. Also, it stinks.

Nicknamed the ‘corpse flower’ because of its formidable scent, the Titan arum (Amorphophallus titanium) last bloomed in the Princess of Wales Conservatory in September 2021. Indeed, it was at Kew that the first Titan arum bloomed outside of Sumatra when, in 1889, it overwhelmed onlookers with its horrible odour.

During its second bloom at Kew, in 1926, the flower drew such large crowds that police had to be called in to keep them under control. There is something about the human condition that even when you tell people that a flower smells like a dead body, they will come in their thousands to have a look at it and give it a sniff.

Aristolochia goldieana. Currently resembling a soggy beanie, soon to be upsetting anyone who dares stray too close. Credit: Sebastian Kettley/RBG Kew

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The good and bad news continues, with a second extremely rare (good) but foul smelling (bad) plant blooming at the same time. An Aristolochia goldieana in the Palm House has produced a flower for only the third time in the UK. 

Native to tropical West Africa, Aristolochia goldieana is a vulnerable species that was first described in 1865 and is one of the largest Aristolochia species known. It grows a couple of feet each year, and the specimen in Kew is about four metres tall. Per Kew, ‘the foliage smells bitter and of chemicals, while the flowers smell like a garbage heap in high summer’. Wonderful. 

Both plants are Aroids, and use their foul smell to deceive their pollinators. As mentioned, this tactic does not appear to work on humans. Both plants are in flower for the next two days, so, if you wish to see them, best get a move on.