FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE | July 29, 2013

New American Chemical Society video on a real stinker: The corpse flower’s odor

WASHINGTON, July 29, 2013 — After six years of anticipation, that rock star of plants — a rainforest giant known as the corpse flower for its putrid odor — has bloomed here, and is the subject of a new video by the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world’s largest scientific society. It is available at www.bytesizescience.com.

The video, produced by ACS Office of Public Affairs’ award-winning Digital Services Unit, focuses on the chemical cocktail responsible for the offensive odor of the flower. More formally known as titan arum or Amorphophallus titanum, the plant is on display at the U.S. Botanic Garden, on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol.

Todd Brethauer, a volunteer public science educator at the Botanic Garden who narrates the video, explains that the flower uses its strong scent not to repel but to attract. The chemicals lure pollinators with a preference for rot — dung beetles and other insects that lay their eggs in the equally stinky environments of decomposing animals.

After mustering energy underground in its tuber for more than six years, the plant emerged, grew to nearly 8 feet, and bloomed for the first time on July 21. Brethauer describes the resulting cocktail as having distinct notes of rotting onions, essence of spoiled fish and old sweaty socks.

The rare event drew more than 130,000 visitors in sweltering heat to catch a glimpse of the exotic plant. But only those lucky enough to show up within the day and a half of its opening witnessed the spectacular, ephemeral bloom. In dramatic fashion, the plant closed the night after it opened and, having exhausted its energy reserves trying to reproduce, completely collapsed a couple days later. The last time one of these unpredictable plants bloomed at the garden was in 2007.

For additional entertaining video podcasts from ACS, go to www.bytesizescience.com.

Other science videos and podcasts from the ACS Office of Public Affairs include Prized Science, Spellbound, Science Elements and Global Challenges/Chemistry Solutions.

To automatically receive news releases from the American Chemical Society, contact newsroom@acs.org.

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The American Chemical Society is a nonprofit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. With more than 163,000 members, ACS is the world's largest scientific society and a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

A new American Chemical Society video explains the foul odor of the exotic corpse flower, which just bloomed in Washington, D.C.
Credit: Sean Parsons, American Chemical Society
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