Arts & Culture
4:22 pm
Wed August 7, 2013

Why Will Phipps Smell Like Death This Month? Blame the Corpse Flower

The Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens will soon smell like something crawled up inside of it and died. 

Some time in late August a rare corpse flower (Amorphophallus titanum), that Curator of Horticulture Ben Dunigan has been pampering since 2009, is expected to bloom. When it does, the 6-foot-tall flower will emit an “intense” scent resembling rotting flesh.

“And when I say intense, you can imagine that these have evolved to attract pollinators from miles away,” Dunigan said. “So in our Palm Court, which is quite a big room, it's sure to smell the entire room up.”

The plant was moved from the production rooms of the Phipps to the Palm Court Tuesday.

“What you will see now is a flower bud that’s developing … and growing three inches every day,” Dunigan said of the flower, which is currently 39 inches tall.

Dunigan has gone through more than 100 years of records and found no mention of  the Phipps ever hosting a flowering corpse plant, despite the efforts of past curators. Dunigan is currently caring for three of the plants, but he won’t venture a guess as to when the other smaller plants will bloom.

The bloom is expected to open the week of Aug. 19, but Dunigan said it is a lot like predicting the arrival of a baby. After years of waiting the flower, will only last about 48 hours, with the most intense odor being emitted over about 12 hours when the plant burns sugars stored in its 63 pound corm, or root, to heat the flower to 100 degrees. 

“We are planning on having extended hours during the blooming period, when we will have it open until 2 a.m.,” Dunigan said.

The Phipps will update the status of the flower on its Twitter and Facebook pages.

A blooming corpse flower in Washington D.C. drew nearly 100,000 visitors while it was blooming. One in Huston attracted 40,000 visitors over two days.

After the blooming is finished the flower will collapse and the plant will be taken back to the productions rooms for several years until it is ready to put off another stinky show.

The Phipps has named the plant “Romero,” after horror film director George Romero, who is best known for his 1968 movie "Night of the Living Dead," which was filmed in and around Pittsburgh.