London's Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, has welcomed the arrival of a multi-record-breaking flower, which bloomed on Tuesday (9 October).
Amophophallus titanum (also known as the titan arum) is a supersized flower from the rainforests of Sumatra that can stand taller than 3 m (9 ft 10 in) off the ground, making it the Tallest flower in the world.
It’s known more commonly as the "corpse flower", alluding to its other, more nefarious record title: Smelliest flower. The bloom releases a powerful stench likened to rotting flesh that, according to some reports, can be detected as far as half a mile away! It does this to attract flies in the dense jungle where it lives, as these insects are this species’ main pollinators.
On hearing the news that this rare flower was out, Guinness World Records visited Kew to smell the bloom up close – and also to see how it measured up.
Describing themselves as the "proud parents" were Kew’s botanical horticulturist Marcelo Sellaro and supervisor of the Princess of Wales Conservatory, Elisa Biondi, who have been responsible for raising the pungent plant for several years.
The incredible flower is the culmination of a very long process of cultivation, as Marcelo explained.
"The seeds for this plant came from Bonn Botanical Gardens in Germany back in 1997," he said.
"In 2005, we managed to pollinate two inflorescences – moving pollen from one flower to another to produce lots of fruit and new seeds. This specimen was the result of one of those seeds – so it is now over 13 years old.
"The titan arum has two main stages: a vegetative period and a flowering period. The same tuber can produce either a flower or a big leaf – the leaf is more like a tree! This example here was a leaf for about 18 months, before all the energy went back into the tuber and it became dormant, then the flower started to grow a few weeks ago."
Asked about what she thinks of the stench, Elisa said: "When I first arrived at the glasshouse this morning, I thought there was a dead rat… but when I got closer to the area, I realised what it was. I think it smells like bin juice. But despite it being so bad, there’s almost something that makes you want to smell it again… It’s almost addictive!"
At just over 3 m, from the top of the tuber below the soil to the tip of the spadix (the flower spike), Kew’s titan arum wasn’t quite tall enough to take the overall record. But Marcelo and Elisa were still honoured to accept two GWR certificates on behalf of this superlative species.
Despite taking years to produce a flower, the bloom is very short-lived – only lasting for two or three days once opened before it collapses. So if you want to see – and smell – this record-breaking plant for yourself, you’ll have to visit Kew Gardens very soon!
Curious to find out just how bad the corpse flower smells? During British Science Week in 2018, Guinness World Records teamed up with Robin Ince – who hosts the radio show The Infinite Monkey Show, along with scientist Brian Cox – to have a go at recreating the titan arum’s almighty stench. It involved blending together reeky cheese, fish bones and several other disgusting ingredients.
Watch the gross concoction being made here!
To learn more about the titan arum, check out our special feature, which appears in Guinness World Records: Science & Stuff.