Botanists are watching in trepidation as a specimen of the magnificent - but smelly - titan arum begins to blossom in the grounds of the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California.
The plant, formally named Amorphophallus titanum, is famous for its rare flowering. It has only blossomed 11 times in America and on a handful of occasions in Britain, where it was last seen to bloom in 1996 at the Royal Botanic Garden at Kew Gardens in west London.
It can reach a height of more than six feet when it flowers, and has the bulkiest flowering structure in the plant world. Scientists are mystified why it suddenly goes into bloom after years of lying dormant.
Botanists at Kew who analysed the odour of the plant as it flowered found that it contained dimethyl disulphide and dimethyl trisulphide, two substances with sickening smells to mimic the stench of rotting flesh which is designed to attract pollinating insects.
An Italian naturalist, Odoardo Beccari, discovered the plant in its native Indonesia in 1878 and brought seeds back to Europe, one of which grew into a specimen at Kew that flowered in 1889, the first time outside its native habitat.
During its blossoming, the plant can grow at a rate of four inches a day. The specimen at San Marino has reached a height of nearly five feet and it is still growing.Reuse content