Native to the lowland rainforests of the island of Sumatra in Indonesia, this endangered species has flowered only infrequently in cultivation in the U.S. One of the largest blooms in the plant kingdom, it is also one of the most malodorous.
The plant was first discovered in Sumatra in 1878 by Italian botanist Odoardo Beccari. He sent seeds to the Royal Botanic Garden at Kew where it first bloomed in 1889. It is in the same plant family as the familiar New England native, Jack-in-the Pulpit.
For many years the plant produces only a single, highly dissected leaf, up to 12 feet high. During this stage of the plant’s life it is building up a large underground storage organ, called a corm, that can eventually weigh up to 150 pounds, requiring two people to lift and move it. Once the corm reaches a certain critical size, it may send up a single flower. Our corm gained some weight, going from 40 lbs to over 50 now.
These are probably the most spectacular flowers in the plant kingdom. The inflorescence (flowering stalk) of this species is one of the largest. The size of the corm determines the flower size. 100 pound corms have been known to produce flower stalks up to 9 feet tall. From a pleated skirt of scarlet rises a towering yellow spadix (the spike that holds all the individual flowers). The bloom is very short lived and it is not easy to predict when the flower will be fully open.
Contributing to this flower’s enigmatic and exotic allure is the fact that it is one of the worst smelling flowers on earth. The overpowering aroma of rotten flesh attracts carrion beetles, who serve as its pollinators.