A smell to behold: Cincinnati Zoo’s corpse flower is blooming

Credit: Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden

Credit: Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden

Not mysterious or spooky, but expected to smell all together ooky, the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden’s corpse flower, Morticia, is blooming.

“It’s happening,” the zoo posted on social media Friday night. “Morticia the corpse flower is in the process of blooming.”

The zoo said Morticia’s bloom likely will be in its prime today, with a possibility the stink continues Sunday.

Morticia was brought to Cincinnati in July 2019 from the Chicago Botanic Garden. Staff has been preparing for this stinky, once-in-a-decade blooming ever since. It takes seven to 10 years for a corpse flower to bloom and, when it does, it only blooms for one day.

The corpse flower, one of the world’s rarest, smelliest and most unusual plants, naturally grows in Sumatra and spends years gathering the energy it needs to bloom and emit the scent that gives the flower its name.

The scent apparently smells delicious to Sumatra’s carrion-eating beetles and flesh flies, who come to pollinate the corpse flower during its bloom. After pollination, it wilts and returns to hibernation.

“The odor, color, and temperature, which can rise to 98 degrees, of the flower are meant to attract pollinators that are attracted to dead animals,” said Jerome Stenger, Cincinnati Zoo horticulturist. “Since the Discovery Forest greenhouse isn’t crawling with dung beetles and flesh flies, we are trying to get our hands on some pollen so we can help Morticia pollinate!”

The Cincinnati Zoo describes the smell as a delightful combination of Limburger cheese, rotting fish and smelly feet.

Morticia, now four feet tall, can be seen in the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden’s Discovery Forest.

Corpse flowers are listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The flower does not have an annual blooming cycle — instead, energy is stored in a large underground stem from which the bloom emerges when sufficient energy has been collected, according to the U.S. Botanic Garden.

This makes the time between blooms unpredictable — it can take up to a decade between blooms.

In June 2019, just before Morticia arrived in Cincinnati, visitors at the Tropical Bamboo Nursery & Gardens in Loxahatchee, Florida, were able to experience their own corpse flower’s bloom. The last time their flower bloomed was 2014.

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