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The World's Biggest Flower Just Bloomed in Ohio and It Smells Like a Corpse

A very rare and very smelly Sumatran "corpse flower" just smothered Ohio in stink.
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One of the world's oldest and biggest species of flowering plants bloomed in Ohio yesterday: the extremely rare Titan Arum. The plant, which was grown by the Biological Sciences Greenhouse at Ohio State University, is endemic only to rainforests in Sumatra, where it was first discovered in 1878. Today, it's colloquially known as the "corpse flower" because of its pungent stench—it smells like decomposing flesh.

Wednesday's feat was part of an ongoing effort to save the rare species, led in part by Ohio State molecular geneticist Joan Leonard, who planted the seed for this now-49-pound Titan Arum back in 2001. Worldwide, the species has bloomed fewer than 150 times since it was discovered over a hundred years ago, according to Sandi Rutkowski, communications director at OSU's College of Arts and Sciences.


Because of booming population growth, the corpse flower's only natural habitat is rapidly diminishing. About 70 percent of its endemic habit in Sumatran rainforests have already been destroyed, said Leonard, coordinator of the campus's Biological Sciences Greenhouse.

On Wednesday, Ohio State's greenhouse again became one of the few who've gotten a successful bloom out of the unwonted, diffident flower. In order to save the species, conservationists must get the plant's putrid flower to bloom, as that's the only way botanists can obtain and share pollen and seed to propagate the species, Rutkowski said.

"Sumatran islands have an exploding population, so in order to feed their people they're clearing out Titan Arum's habitat. Pretty soon its natural habitat is going to be gone, and it only grows in one place in the world. The only way to save it is for plant scientists and conservatories to preserve it. That's why conservation botanists and conservatories around the world have been trying to grow them," she said.

Although yesterday's bloom has closed, more flowers should bloom soon, according to Leonard.

"The bloom that just finished; we collected pollen off of it yesterday and we will use that pollen to pollinate the next bloom. Today we pulled in the second bud that's coming up, and it's going to bloom in about 10 days."

The International Union for Conservation of Nature classifies the disappearing rainforest species as "vulnerable," which is one step away from being classified as endangered.

You can watch a live stream of the plant's unsavory redolence (and subsequent blooms) here.