‘Corpse flower’ attracts thousands to D.C.

WASHINGTON — It seems a more fitting subject for an Edgar Allan Poe story: a towering maroon blossom that emits the odor of rotting flesh.

Up to 20,000 visitors packed the U.S. Botanic Garden on Monday to catch a whiff of the rare titan arum bloom, also known as the corpse flower, before the short-lived flowering ends.

Found in the tropical rainforests of Sumatra, Indonesia, the titan arum takes years to bloom, but its inflorescence, one of the largest in the world, remains open for only 24 to 48 hours. The powerful odor serves to attract carrion beetles and other insects for pollination.

While the U.S. Botanic Garden has 14 corpse flowers, this is the first to bloom since 2007.

Botanists and the public were anticipating the Washington event for a week before the plant finally bloomed Sunday evening. During that time, more than 400,000 viewers logged on to a webcam monitoring the plant’s progress.

Bill McLaughlin, the garden’s curator of plants, heard that the titan arum was about to bloom Sunday and arrived just in time to see it open around 6 p.m.

Crowds converged on the garden Monday, forming a line that wove slowly through the shrubbery. Many visitors wore suits or high heels as they stole away from work for a quick peek.

Though it smelled sweet at first, McLaughlin said, the stench soon “began descending from the roof, like a pile of dead animals.”

“It’s hilarious that all these people are here to smell something awful,” he said.

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