What do gym socks, a portable potty and a dead rat have in common?
Those are all words used to describe the foul smell of a corpse flower in bloom, and if you’re in Los Angeles this weekend you might be lucky enough to catch a whiff of your own at the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Garden in San Marino.
One of Huntington’s disease’s corpse flowers, sccentennial, will bloom over the next seven days, and despite its well-advertised stench, garden staff expect hundreds of visitors to line up to see it. (Besides, if you’re in Northern California, there’s another Amorphophallus titan just before flowering at the Conservatory of Flowers in San Francisco.)
“Kids love it — even adults love it,” said Brandon Tam, Huntington’s botanical curator. “Eventually they all come in because they want to smell something really smelly.”
Aside from the smell, there are a number of other reasons people are drawn to the corpse flower. Here’s everything you need to know about Sccentennial before it blooms.
1. Scentennial is more than 20 years old.
It’s the progeny of a pollination the Huntington’s performed on a cadaver flower at UC Santa Barbara in 2002. The majority of the Huntington’s 43 corpse flower specimens come from this pollination, although Sccentennial is the only one to bloom this year.
“It’s blooming for the second time,” Tam said. “The first time it bloomed for us was in 2019 when we celebrated our centenary. That’s how the name Scentennial came about.”
2. It’s massive.
Scentennial is currently over 68 inches tall and growing. It is not uncommon for the plant to grow seven inches overnight. The last corpse flower to bloom in the Huntington reached a height of 98.5 inches. That’s more than a foot taller than former basketball star Shaquille O’Neal.
It’s hard too. “It takes a team of five people to transport a corpse flower from the greenhouse, where it’s usually kept, to a specific display area,” Tam said.
3. It’s very, very special.
The corpse flower needs to be in a warm and humid environment that mimics its native Indonesian habitat. It also needs the right pot structure to support its weight and enough space for it to grow to its exceptional height.
According to Tam, every botanical garden has a slightly different method of caring for their corpse flowers.
“We share knowledge with other gardens to become more efficient,” he said.
4. Yes, it really smells the Poorly.
In the corpse flower’s natural habitat, its scent helps attract insects that mistake it for an animal carcass, which helps the plant to pollinate and survive. The plant only smells when it flowers, which happens for about 24 hours.
“As soon as everyone comes in, they start covering their noses,” Tam said. “We’ve had people come in and immediately leave.”
Over the years, Tam has learned to tolerate the plant’s smell, but the smell still catches him off guard at times, he said.
The smell is strongest in the morning and diminishes as the day progresses. Therefore, if you have a particularly sensitive nose, Tam recommends scheduling your visit for the afternoon.
5. Yes, there is a way to see the plant without smelling it.
Check out Huntington’s website for a 24-hour live stream of the plant in all its glory. Not only can you watch the flower blossom, but you can also see the hilarious reactions of visitors experiencing the fragrance for the first time.
6. Huntington’s staff are just as enthusiastic about the event as the visitors.
“I’ve seen a total of 18 blooms since I’ve been here, and it blows my mind every time,” Tam said.
Tam and his colleagues have been growing Sccentennial for 20 years, and seeing visitors from all walks of life enjoying the plant reminds them that their hard work has paid off.
“Every time we see people enter the conservatory, they have this big smile,” Tam said. “Their eyes are wide open. They are thrilled. They just love being around. And so we can really feel the impact that we are having and see how we are educating the public.”
Tam knows that the corpse flower could be a bizarre plant, but he also recognizes it as a gateway for humans to invade the plant world.
“It’s certainly our mission in HD to reach out to those who want to learn more about plant life,” he said. “Our goal is to inspire the next generation of botanists and gardeners.”
Would you like to be inspired? How to see the corpse flower.
📍: The Huntington Library, the Art Museum and the Botanical Gardens
☎️: (626) 405-2100
⏰: Personal viewing is possible during the public opening hours (10 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed on Tuesdays) in the conservatory. Reservations are not required for weekday visits, but capacity in the conservatory is limited to 20-25 people at a time. Reservations are required for weekends, days off and public holidays on Mondays.
Night time viewing may be possible depending on when the flower opens. Check out Huntington’s website and social media accounts for updates. Select galleries at the Huntington Art Gallery are closed, as are the Rose Garden Tea Room, Ranch Garden and Mausoleum.
Masks are optional outdoors and highly recommended indoors, but not required.
💰: $13 to $29; Children 3 and under free. There is free parking on the property.