Q&A: Nick Snakenberg, Horticulturist at Denver Botanic Gardens, on Stinky the Corpse Flower


Courtesy Denver Botanic Gardens

Have you ever waited years to get the chance to smell something awfully stinky? Probably not, but if you weren’t one of the thousands of visitors who flocked to Denver Botanic Gardens in 2015 to see (and smell) Stinky, the blooming corpse flower, you can get a whiff during a second bloom right now.

Stinky, which is around 18 years old, emits a foul odor resembling decaying flesh—something it does to attract flies and beetles for pollination. The bloom lasts about 48 hours, so don’t miss out on this rare and pungent event.

We caught up with Nick Snakenberg, horticulturist at Denver Botanic Gardens, to learn more about Stinky.

How rare is the corpse flower?
“They’re native only to Indonesia, and like a lot of plants and animals in nature, their habitats are being destroyed. They’re native to a very limited area and that area is getting smaller.”

Can people buy the plant and grow it themselves?
There are nurseries that sell them and you can certainly grow them yourself. The challenge is the size they get. The flowers can be 6, 7, 8, even 10 feet tall. The plants can reach 20 feet tall, so it’s not something you can grow in a light stand in your basement. You need a large facility.”

How can you tell when it’s about to bloom?
“That’s a really tricky question. A lot of institutions that have bloomed this plant before keep good photo records and growth charts, which we are doing ourselves, so we can compare our data with other institutions’ data. We’ve done that everyday with this bloom, comparing back to what it did in 2015.”

Are all corpse flowers equally stinky?
“This particular corpse flower is Amorphophallus titanum; there are a lot of different species within the genus Amorphophallus and we have a number of different ones here at the Gardens. There’s a little guy called Amorphophallus bulbifer and its bloom is probably less than a foot tall, and to me it stinks as much as, or maybe more than, Amorphophallus titanum. I don’t know if anyone’s ever measured the intensity of the odor but the different species do have different levels of intensity, but within the same species I’m not sure it varies that much.”

What is it about Stinky that makes people line up for hours to see it in bloom?
“This may be an awkward comparison, but you know if you drive by a car accident, you almost feel compelled to look? I think it’s the same thing. It’s, ‘Ew, it smells so bad I’m compelled to see it.’ It’s a morbid curiosity.”


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