The smell of death is about to descend on New York City, and this time we’re not talking about the eau de street trash baking in a heat wave. The Amorphophallus titanum is close to blooming in the New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx. It is known as the corpse flower because its blossom has a fragrance akin to “rotting flesh.”
The corpse flower takes about a decade to open up its brownish-red insides, and its peak bloom only lasts around 24 to 36 hours and then it dies. Its bloom is technically many little flowers ("inflorescence"). The plant also grows around eight feet tall, give or take a foot. The corpse flower is set to bloom at any moment, so if you want the minute-by-minute thrills minus the scent of human decay, the New York Botanical Garden has its corpse-flower camera feed:
This type of flower — native to Indonesia — hasn’t blossomed in the Bronx since 1939, two years after its first blooming in the United States, also at the Botanical Gardens, in 1937. Both times it debuted to decent amount of fanfare, but at least in 1937, spectators viewed it from outside a greenhouse because the stench was so strong. "Frankly," the New York Times wrote during the 1939 blossoming, "it is not an attractive plant. The spadix rising in the middle is dark slate green, and the spathes are mottled green on the outside and maroon on the inside. It looks tropical and rather sinister, and when it blooms it smells very strongly of dead fish." (The "carrion" smell is meant to attract pollinators.)
The corpse flower was named the Bronx’s official flower on July 7, 1939, in "tribute to the salubrious climate of the Bronx," and because it was "symbolic of the fastest growing borough of the City of New York." According to the Times, when a reporter questioned such a "potent" choice then–Bronx borough president James J. Lyons replied: "It may not be a sweet smell, but it’s healthy." It took a few decades, but in 2000, the Bronx switched the official flower to the day lily. ”I hate to think of the corpse flower as the Bronx flower," Michael Ruggiero, the senior curator for horticulture at the New York Botanical Garden, told the Times in 2000, "because people would think the Bronx and think, ‘The Bronx stinks.’ The Bronx is a people place, and the corpse flower is not a people plant."