Rare and stinky corpse flower set to bloom again at San Diego Botanic Garden

A rare corpse flower is preparing to bloom at the San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas.
(San Diego Botanic Garden)

During the last bloom cycle in 2018, the rare bloom — which smells like rotting meat — drew thousands of visitors


Those who’ve experienced the scent of the enormous Amorphophallus titanum flower compare it to the stench of rotting flesh that’s been sitting out in the sun for several days.

San Diego County residents will have the chance to decide for themselves in the coming week when one of these enormous blossoms — commonly known as the “corpse flower” — is expected to reach its peak bloom at the San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas.

The bloom of a corpse flower is a rare event. It takes the corpse plant seven to 10 years to produce its first bloom. After that, it only blooms every four or five years. The fully opened bloom lasts just for 48 hours before it fades, so when the corpse flower finally arrives, it becomes a major tourist attraction.

A titan arum or corpse flower plant photographed in full bloom at the San Diego Botanic Garden.
A titan arum or corpse flower plant photographed in full bloom at the San Diego Botanic Garden in 2018.
(San Diego Botanic Garden)

The last time the plant bloomed at the San Diego Botanic Garden in 2018, thousands of visitors flocked to see and sniff the flower. To accommodate the curious this month, the garden is offering a free 24-hour livestream of the plant, which can grow up to 6 inches a day inside the SDBG’s Dickinson Family Education Conservatory. Garden tickets are also being sold by timed entry for people who want to see the plant and smell it, too.

Garden officials aren’t certain when the flower will open, but they’re estimating it will emerge from its sheath sometime early this week, possibly as early as today, Oct. 24..

“The corpse flower is the rock star diva of the plant world,” said Ari Novy, president and CEO of the SDBG. “We never know exactly when it’s going to perform, but when it does, it’s the most amazing show in all of horticulture. We can’t wait to see what this corpse flower is going to do.”

Only a handful of these strange Indonesian plants bloom each year at public gardens worldwide. SDBG is the only known garden in the region that grows this exotic species. The Amorphophallus titanum — or titan arum, for short — is an endangered plant that grows on Indonesia’s island of Sumatra, where fewer than 1,000 plants remain in the wild.

The bloom’s putrid scent is designed to attract carrion-consuming rainforest beetles and flesh flies that pollinate the tiny florets at its center to produce seed berries. But without these natural pollinators at the SDBG, the plant must be pollinated by hand to grow seeds. SDGB worked with Vista grower Jim Boorman in 2006 to create the seed for this titan arum plant. Then it was nurtured from seedling to adulthood by Cal State Fullerton greenhouse manager Ed Read. In 2016, it was returned to SDBG as a mature plant. Since then, several offspring have joined it at the garden.

The blooming process takes about 30 days. During that month, the spearhead-shaped blossom will grow from the ground up to a height of 4 to 6 feet, and when the beige flower spike emerges from the umbrella-shaped purple sheath, it can be 6 to 12 feet tall. For plant-lovers who miss this week’s corpse flower bloom, they might get another chance in November. Staff members say they believe a second titan arum in the conservatory may be in the early stages of beginning its own bloom cycle.

To view the growth process via livestream, visit https://sdbgarden.org/corpse-plant.htm. To see it in person, tickets are on sale at the same website address. For details, call (760) 436-3036. San Diego Botanic Garden is at 300 Quail Gardens Drive in Encinitas.