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.
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
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
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.
(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 ...
Reuters contributed to this report.
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