By Erin Marissa Russell
There are lots of plants that gardeners grow because they smell so nice, but this article is about just the opposite: plants that gardeners love despite their nasty odor. If you’re a gardener who has fallen in love with the stinky plants of the flower kingdom, you’ll love this article, which will introduce you to some flowers that you may never have heard of before.
Crown Imperial (Fritillaria imperialis)
These strong-smelling flowers are relatives of the checkered lily. The bell-shaped blooms face the ground, with several drooping blossoms in red, orange, or yellow emerging in the spring. One major benefit of the distinctive musky odor that comes along with this gorgeous display is that the smell of the crown imperial’s blooms is traditionally believed to keep deer and squirrels out of the garden while the flowers are open.
Pineapple Lily (Eucomis bicolor)
This flower originates from South Africa and is mainly pollinated by flies, so it has evolved to have a sulfurous smell that is similar to that of a dead body. However, it produces a spire covered in chartreuse blooms. Blossoms can also be nearer to white than to green or can be shaded with purple. The blooming period lasts for six to eight weeks. The pineapple lily grows in rich, moist soil that provides good drainage.
Stinking Corpse Lily (Rafflesia arnoldii)
This plant produces flowers that are the largest individual blooms on earth, and they smell like rotting carrion. The flower is absolutely enormous, weighing up to 24 pounds and growing as large as the torso of a human body. Because this plant is parasitic, it does not have leaves, stems, or roots. Instead, it takes its nutrients and energy-producing food from the host plant, the Tetrastigma vine. The corpse lily produces fibers that live inside the Tetrastigma vine, seeming like they’re just threads. Then when it’s time for the parasitic plant to reproduce, it will explode from inside the host plant to go into bloom, producing a lump the size of a head of cabbage so it can produce its enormous flower. Around a year after that, the host plant will open yet again for a few days so the corpse lily can distribute its round fruit to animals in the forest.
Stinking Iris (Iris foetidissima)
It’s not the bloom of this plant that is responsible for its unpleasant smell but instead the foliage. Stinking iris has deep green, glossy leaves that are evergreen. The bloom of this plant happens in fall and winter, when purple blossoms open, followed by large pods that reveal vibrant orange or red seeds held inside.
Titan Arum (Amorphophallus titanium)
Nicknamed the “corpse flower,” Titan arum has made the news in recent years as it bloomed in botanical gardens. Crowds were drawn to see the rare flower blossom despite the disgusting aroma that gave the plant its nickname, which has been compared to the smell of an animal carcass. All the attention is because a blooming corpse flower is quite a rare sight indeed. It’s just so uncommon for these flowers to bloom, since it takes a corpse flower between seven and 10 years to work up the stores of energy that allow it to blossom.
This variety shows that it’s nearing time for it to bloom by entering a period of heavy growth. In the days and weeks leading up to its anticipated bloom, a corpse flower will grow several inches each day. Then, suddenly all that high-powered growth suddenly ends. When the Titan arum is finally ready to open, it stops growing completely. The two unique leaves at the base of the corpse flower’s spathe called bracts wither, then eventually first one bract and then the other falls off of the flower as it prepares to open. Then, the ruffled curtain of the spathe draws back to reveal the vivid burgundy color inside, which is the last step before the corpse flower will open. These blooms, which can be as infrequent as once per decade, only last between 24 and 36 hours before they fade—so you can see why crowds press to see the rare sight when a botanical garden’s specimen of Titan arum begins to bloom, despite the offensive odor.
These flowers are rare in individual gardens partially due to the size of the corpse flower but also because of their “vulnerable” status on the endangered plant list. This unusual, stately plant can reach heights between 10 and 12 feet in the wild, with the bloom measuring up to five feet across. In captive settings like a botanical garden, however, Titan arum flowers are normally closer to between six and eight feet tall, with the flower measuring more like three feet wide. Because it’s unlikely you’ll be able to grow your own Titan arum specimen, if one blooms at a botanical garden near you, don’t miss the chance to see—and smell—the rare corpse flower.
Voodoo Lily (Dracunculus vulgaris)
In addition to the title “voodoo lily,” this plant is also known as the stink lily, snake lily, and black dragon. Like many of the flowers on this list, its scent is similar to that of a decaying corpse. However, the stench will only persist for about a day. The flower boasts a dark purple bract similar to a leaf that unwraps itself in June to show the flower itself: a fleshy spire so purple it is almost black covered in tiny flowers.
There are several species that produce stinky flowers or plants that just don’t smell that great all the time as a matter of course. However, many of them are such tropical or rare flowers that it’s unlikely most home gardeners will be able to find seeds or starter plants for them. The majority of these plants should be appreciated in documentary films or at botanical gardens that have the resources to give these plants what they need.