CNN logo

Search Yahoo, Search CNN

Main banner

In Britain, people take time to smell the flower

August 1, 1996
Web posted at: 1:20 a.m. EDT (5:20 GMT)

From Correspondent Margaret Lowrie

LONDON (CNN) -- It was billed by the media as the biggest, smelliest flower on earth, but visitors to London's Kew Gardens found the titan arum to be neither.

There was great anticipation before it bloomed this week, and some disappointment when it finally did. "Well, where's the pungent smell that we were told about?" one visitor asked.

sound icon(128K AIFF or WAV sound)


And even the finely tuned nose of a London newspaper's wine critic found little to sniff at, remarking that it smelled "very, very faintly" of fresh fish and a little bit of rotting meat. "The average British dustbin on a hot day will give you more smell," The Times' Jane Macwhitty said.

In fairness, the titan arum does raise an atrocious stink, which has been likened to a combination of rotting fish and dead mice. However, this specimen is apparently too polite to do so in daylight hours, in public. It prefers to emit its legendary smell during evening hours, when the Gardens are closed.

And it isn't the largest flower, partially because it isn't technically a flower. It's an inflorescence.


"You could say it's a floral structure, but it's only a botanist who would object to the word using a flower, I mean it is a flower, isn't it, for heavens sake. The fact that it's technically made up of lots of little individuals is neither here nor there," naturalist Sir David Attenborough said.

The plant's full botanical name is Amorphophallus Titanum. Botanists say the exotic plant from Sumatra, where it is known as the "corpse flower," is one of the largest floral structures in the world. It may bloom three or four times in its 40-year life span, but only for two or three days. Its putrid odor is critical to its survival, because it tells pollinating bees that the flower is in bloom.

sound icon(153K AIFF or WAV sound of David Attenborough)

"From the point of its size and its smell, I think it's very special, and of course there's also the fact that it's not flowered at Kew for the last 33 years," botanist Peter Boyce said. "People in temperate countries just aren't used to seeing flowers that are 2 meters (7 feet) high."


Because of the arum's unique qualities, interest is high. More than three times as many people as usual are coming to the Gardens to check the plant out. The crowd this year is relatively tame in historic terms -- 70 years ago when the Royal Botanic Gardens displayed a blooming titan arum, police had to be called out to maintain order.

Order has not been a problem this time. There are just a lot of people at Kew, taking time to stop and smell the ... inflorescence.

Reuters contributed to this report.

What You Think Tell us what you think!

You said it...

To the top

© 1996 Cable News Network, Inc.
All Rights Reserved.

Terms under which this service is provided to you.