PHOTO: Titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum) in bud.

What’s that smell?

In gardening, as in life, patience is a virtue. Twelve years ago, the Garden embarked on a mission to bring a rock star of the plant world to the Chicago Botanic Garden. The titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum), also known as the corpse flower, is the largest flowering structure in the world. When it blooms, it puts on a show like no other. 

Huge. Rotten. Rare. Watch our video on YouTube of Spike moving to his display location.

Why the big stink? During the peak of its bloom, which could happen in the next two weeks, the titan arum will emit a foul odor that pollinators can detect from about an acre away. Who would want to miss that?

PHOTO: Checking in on the progress of the titan arum, or corpse flower (Amorphophallus titanum).
Checking in on the progress of the titan arum, or corpse flower (Amorphophallus titanum)

Native to the rainforests of western Sumatra, Indonesia, the titan arum is distinguished by its large size, odd shape, and terrible stench (hence its common name, corpse flower). Plants bloom for a single day every seven to ten years, and it is nearly impossible to predict the day it will be at the peak of bloom. When those magical hours finally occur, the bloom unfurls into a dramatic, blood red “flower” with a nauseating stench that can be detected up to an acre away. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. 

We have been cultivating eight of these mysterious plants behind the scenes in the production greenhouses, watching them grow foliage each year, and guessing what a flower might look like as it emerges.

Today we are so excited to be moving Spike to the Semitropical Greenhouse in the Regenstein Center. (We have named our titan arum Spike because when you grow a plant for 12 years, you start to think of it as a child.) Spike is growing several inches every day. We are so proud of Spike and are also thrilled he is the first titan arum to bloom in the Chicago area.

Come welcome Spike, and join the countdown to the big bloom! If you do, let us know what you think in comments here, via Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or Tumblr. Use the hashtag #CBGSpike and our handle @chicagobotanic

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and

Published by

Tim Pollak

"Titan" Tim Pollak is outdoor floriculturist for the Chicago Botanic Garden. He earned his BS degree from Colorado State University in Landscape Management and Nursery and Greenhouse Management.

14 thoughts on “What’s that smell?”

    1. Thanks Olin indeed a very special and exciting plant in many ways-flower size, form, anticipation,and of course scent. 12 years growing to get to this point, worth it all to see this wow.

    1. Hi Gary,
      I wish i could tell you that we have a Titan Arum getting ready to bloom in the very near future, but at this time, I can;t.
      We just don’t know when one of our plants in our collection of 15 plants will bloom next. Although, we do expect to have a bloom in the coming months, but can;t give you an exact date or even a 100% asurance if they will flower yet. We do know that 2 of our plants are at the proper age, of 10-12 years old, and once they complete their growing cycle of being in a leaf, we will have to wait and see what happens next, either another leaf, or perhaps a flower?

  1. Amazing plants, and i really don’t know that its available here in Indonesia. I am living in Indonesia now, is there any chance how to experience this kid of bloom you talking about.

    1. Hi Khole,
      Thanks for your questions about the Amorphophallus. There are competitions for growing gigantic vegetables, and certain varieties of vegetables and flowers that are grown only for producing large fruit and flowers. For example, giant cabbage, giant “dinner-plate” Dahlias, and certainly gigantic tomatoes and squash. Also, there many high-energy fertilizer out there or that can be homemade to produce large vegetables or flowers, it would be worth your investigation on the internet to read about more about these possibilities and techniques for sure to have success with growing gigantic returns from your plants.
      In regards to eating Amorphophallus, they are not meant to be eaten including any of the plant parts (flower, fruit, or corm-the bulb-like structure underground, and are considered poisonous, therefore please do not eat them.
      Hope this helps,

  2. Wow I sure wish I could fit one of these in my backyard garden! Unfortunately, I do not think they would live through 12 years of hot Texas summers, plus my dogs :( When will this bloom again?

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