It was a hot day in late June when the corpse flower finally opened its pungent purple petals.
For those wanting to get a peek and a whiff, there was no time to waste in getting to the New York Botanical Garden. With mellow sounds of Brazilian music playing in the background, visitors were greeted with paper fans that read, “Sometimes love stinks.”
The corpse flower blooming is an ephemeral event. It lasts about 36 hours, and then it’s gone — as dead to the world as it smelled in life.
A native of the Indonesian island of Sumatra, the flower is known in scientific circles as Amorphophallus titanum. It first arrived at the botanical garden in 1932, and according to the garden’s website, it was the official flower of the Bronx until 2006, when that honor was passed on to the better-smelling daylily.
On the day of its blooming, the flower drew mixed reactions from visitors. Some expressed revulsion. Others tried to understand its purpose.
“It definitely is designed to smell more like a rotting carcass to attract pollinating insects,” said Zakary Rios, one of many to brave a trip close to the flower. “It has a smell of hot summer garbage and rotting meat. Definitely not the best smell, but it’s really beautiful and super interesting. Very alien-like.”
No amount of scientific explanation could make the flower intriguing to everyone.
“It makes me a little nauseous,” said Adrian Morel. “I’m sure it’s beautiful to other people. I’ve seen prettier plants.”
Despite the hideous stench, people kept getting in line to get a closer look at the olfactory ogre of a flower. Some lingered around long enough to get back in line to take more pictures, creating odorless memories of a horticultural dumpster.
The corpse flower blooming coincided with the ongoing exhibition “Brazilian Modern: The Living Art of Roberto Burle Marx,” which showcases the work of the renowned Brazilian landscape architect. The significance was not lost on the curators who decided to incorporate the foul flower into the show.
“We’re sure that if he (Burle Marx) had a corpse flower, he would have shown it off, so we’re doing just that,” the garden’s staff wrote in the email alert about the blooming.
Considering Burle Marx’s devotion to exotic plants, some might say they were dead right.