We were ‘lucky’ enough to see and smell the rare flower, which blooms once every few years.

In Japan, there is a famous saying: “kusai mono ni futa“. Translated literally, it means “put a lid on something smelly” and it usually refers to covering up or hushing up scandals. However, here at SoraNews24, we actually gravitate towards things with unsavoury smells. In the past we’ve tried eating surströmming, the notoriously stinky Swedish fish, and one time our boss made us smell his unwashed socks that had been worn for five days straight. Rather than put a lid on anything smelly we might find, we welcome it with open arms, because in the end seeing other people endure foul smells is just plain entertaining.

So when we heard info from Tokyo’s Jindai Botanical Gardens that their corpse flower was about to bloom, we rushed down as soon as we could. You see, the corpse flower is not only incredibly rare to see bloom, it also has an intensely foul aroma, and is often referred to as the world’s stinkiest flower.

The corpse flower, so-called because the smell it emits after blooming is like a corpse, only flowers once every few years. On top of that, it blooms for just two days during its cycle.

The plant is native to Indonesia, but there are a few places around Japan that are growing their own corpse flowers. The Jindai Botanical Gardens (where we visited) and the Tsukuba Experimental Botanical Gardens have so far produced five blooming corpse flowers.

▼ The previous four generations of corpse flower at the Jindai Botanical Gardens

This corpse flower was especially exciting for flower fans as both the leaves and flowers emerged from the buds at the same time, which has only happened twice in recorded history. Such a big event this was in the world of horticulture that, since the announcement that the flower was due to bloom any day soon, the park temporarily opened on Mondays, when they are normally closed, just in case the flower bloomed!

The plant’s flowers start to bloom in the evening, so our reporter Mariko Ohanabatake headed to the botanical park as the sun started to set. The smell is said to be the most intense on the first night it blooms, so Mariko took one last deep breath before entering.

She was guided towards the greenhouse by a member of staff, who helpfully asked her, “Are you ok with bad smells?” Mariko, as a member of the SoraNews24 team, naturally gets more excited the worse the smell is, but knew better than to say such a strange thing out loud, so just nodded.

But as she opened the door to the greenhouse…

▼ … she was met with an overwhelmingly revolting stench, that made even a seasoned professional like her flinch!

Even though she had barely crossed the entrance to the greenhouse, Mariko could already smell the foul aroma of the corpse plant. In her mind, she’d imagined the ‘stench radius’ of the corpse flower as roughly an arm’s length around the plant…

▼ Mariko’s imagined ‘stench radius’

… but actually the smell extended much, much further out, like this —

▼ The stench spread a lot further.

Even now, as she was standing at a considerable distance from the plant, Mariko could smell notes of ‘garbage dump in the summer’. Wonderful, but at least she wasn’t at ‘rotting corpse’ level just yet. Would that change the closer to the plant Mariko got?

The corpse flower looked very unique, with large leaves growing on the right and reddish-purple flowers on the left. The flowers can grow up to three meters (9.8 feet) in size, but because the leaves and flower bloomed at the same time, this one was a little shorter.

The smaller size didn’t stop it from smelling awful though, and as Mariko edged closer to the plant the scent got worse.

With the dark atmosphere of the greenhouse at night and the unique-looking flower, it was almost like Mariko was admiring a piece of modern art.

Using a stepladder, Mariko was able to get up close and get a proper whiff of the flower. As she peered into the plant, she was met with the aroma of ‘outdoor festival toilets in the middle of summer’.

But why does the corpse flower have such a rancid smell? Most flowers emit sweet scents to attract insects, which in turn help them reproduce through pollination. Amazingly, the corpse flower’s unique scent works in the same way — the foul odour attracts carrion beetles and flesh flies, who are drawn to the smell of decaying meat. 

The corpse flower is an endangered species, with fewer than 1,000 plants left in the wild, so being able to see it in person is a real treat regardless of whether or not it’s flowering. The corpse flower will remain on display at the Jindai Botanical Gardens. Even though it won’t bloom now for at least two years, it is still a rare and unique flower and definitely worth seeing!

And should you get the chance to see (and smell) it when it is in bloom, Mariko recommends taking it — just make sure you have a strong stomach to handle its deathly scent.

Park information
Jindai Botanical Gardens / 神代植物公園
Address: Tokyo-to, Chofu-shi, Jindaiji Motomachi 5-31-10
Open 8:30a.m – 5:00p.m
Closed Mondays

Photos ©SoraNews24
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