Elke Wetzig, GNU Free Documentation License


Roses, lilacs, lavender, hyacinth -- all of these flowers have a scent that just makes you happy to be alive. They inspire perfume makers as well as poets.

And then you have corpse flower, skunk cabbage, voodoo lily. They are beautiful, in an alien kind of way. They dare us to come closer and have a look.

When we do, we're rewarded with the stench of rotting flesh or the pervasive odor of skunk.


Here are five of the world's most foul-smelling flowers. You do not want to include these in a bouquet for your sweetheart.

1. Amorphophallus Titanum Also known as "Corpse Flower," Amorphophallus titanum is a huge flower that can grow to over 10 feet tall. The central spadix of flowers (which emit the rotten scent) is surrounded by a single spathe, which is burgundy on the inside and green on the outside. The putrid odor is meant to attract carrion beetles and flesh flies to pollinate it. Hailing from southeast Asia, where it grows in clearings in the rainforests, Amorphophallus titanum is the record holder for having the largest unbranched inflorescence in the world. Both the male and female flowers reside on the spadix, with the male flowers opening a couple of days after the female flowers to prevent the plant from self-pollinating. The flower only blooms for a couple of days, then dies back, and a single giant leaf (which can reach over 20 feet tall) grows and plays the important role of providing energy for the corm via photosynthesis. Once that dies back, a new leaf will sprout -- this will happen for several years until the corm (which can weigh up to 110 pounds) stores up enough energy to send up another bloom.

2. Stapelia Gigantea Stapelia Gigantea is another flower that emits an odor reminiscent of decaying flesh. Both the odor and the appearance of the flower (which has a rather flesh-like color) are convincing enough that the flies it attracts to pollinate it have also been known to lay their eggs on the smelly blossoms. The hairy, textured flowers can grow to about 16 inches across. Stapelia plants are low-growing succulents that are predominantly from South Africa. As a group, Stapelia are often called either Carrion Plants or Toad Plants.

3. Dracunculus Vulgaris Voodoo Lily. A perfect name for this exotic, slightly dangerous-looking (and definitely dangerous-smelling!) plant. The Voodoo lily is native to the Balkans, but has since been introduced to parts of the United States, and can be found growing on the west coast, as well as in private gardens throughout the country. Though it definitely looks like a tropical plant, it grows well in temperate zones -- if you live in USDA Hardiness Zones 5 through 8, you can grow your own Voodoo Lily.

Voodoo Lily is also known as "Dragon Lily," and in Greece, it's commonly called "Drakondia" because its long black spadix looks like a dragon hiding in the surrounding spathe. As far as the scent goes, Voodoo Lily is another carrion scented plant that attracts flies to help pollinate it. The odor only lasts for a couple of days, so if you can put up with the odor for that long, Voodoo Lily definitely seems like a plant worth growing in your own garden.

4. Rafflesia Arnoldii Rafflesia arnoldii almost looks like something you'd find in the sea. However, this gigantic "corpse flower" is native to the rainforests of Sumatra, Indonesia, and Malaysia. It is the largest single flower in the world, measuring 3 feet in diameter and weighing over 20 pounds. Rafflesia is a parasite plant. It grows only on the Tetrastigma vine in the understory of the rainforests of its native region. It doesn't have any leaves or stems of its own, growing more like a fungus. It spreads thread-like strands into and around the Tetrastigma vine, and obtains its necessary nutrients from this contact with its host. It doesn't even have clorophyll. Maybe we should start calling it "Freeloader Flower" instead.5. Lysichiton AmericanusAnd, finally, a nice change from menacing-looking flowers that smell like decaying flesh. Instead, we have a cheerful flower that smells like a skunk! Yellow skunk cabbage is an American native plant, found predominantly in swampy or woodsy, wet areas of the Pacific Northwest. Its skunky odor permeates the surrounding area, and it doesn't even have to be blooming to emit its stench; dead, decaying skunk cabbage still smells skunky. It is among the first flowers to bloom in spring, and, though there aren't many uses for humans, yellow skunk cabbage is a valuable early spring food source for bears, who dig up and eat the rhizomes. It is technically edible for human consumption, but you have to know how to prepare it safely, as it contains calcium oxlate crystals that can cause a range of conditions from minor discomfort to intestinal distress and even death. So let the bears have it.These plants, in all of their smelly, flesh-inspired, occasionally parasitic awesomeness, illustrate why botany is so much fun. It's not all pretty roses and orderly gardens. Sometimes, the stench of rotten flesh is what it takes to survive. It's the kind of thing that science fiction novels are made of, and it's available to us just by learning about the plants that surround us.