It will be the first flowering of this titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum), also known as the stinky plant, which has lived at the garden since 2007. The plant doesn't have an annual blooming cycle; it can wait years or even decades between cycles.
It's expected to heat up, start smelling like dead animals and bloom overnight or in the early morning hours -- though exactly which night it will happen is not known. The heat and smell is to attract pollinator insects such as dung beetles in its natural habitat, said Ari Novy, the garden's public programs manager. The garden doesn't have any such beetles but resident flies could come calling, he said.
Once the garden confirmed on Monday, July 8, that the plant was going to bloom, staffers moved quickly to display it publicly on July 11.
A native of Sumatra, Indonesia, this particular plant is part of the garden's collection of 14 corpse flowers. They are rarely put on display because they require a lot of heat and humidity, which is why they are grown at the garden's production greenhouses in Southeast Washington -- rarely open to the public.
Now the star of the garden, the plant is growing quickly. It was 52 inches tall when it was put on display on July 11. By Saturday morning, it measured 62 inches high and 69 inches by Sunday night. Tuesday morning, it was 79 inches tall.
Once completely open, it can stay in bloom for 24 to 48 hours, and then it will collapse quickly.
The U.S. Botanic Garden last displayed a blooming titan arum in 2007. At least seven U.S. institutions have at least one titan arum in each of its collections.
The garden will have extended hours from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday. If you can't make it to the nation's capital watch it open up online on the garden's live flower cam. The National Botanic Garden of Belgium saw its oldest corpse flower bloom last week, attracting about 4,000 visitors over three days, said garden spokesman Franck Hidvegi. It previously bloomed in 2008 and 2011. The garden has another four plants in its greenhouses, but Hidvegi said they are still too young to bloom.