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The corpse flower blooms again

Zoe Ferrigno
Suma the Titan

San Francisco’s Conservatory of Flowers is usually closed on Mondays, but on July 23rd, the conservatory opened its doors to a stream of visitors, eager to see — and smell — a rare botanical phenomenon: the blooming of an amorphophallus titanum, or corpse flower.

The flower in question, named Suma the Titan, stood on display in front of a lush living wall in the conservatory’s humid special exhibits room, filling the air around it with the unmistakable scent of decomposition. A blooming corpse flower releases its signature aroma in waves. Early in the day, after a chilly San Francisco night, Suma smelled subtly earthy, like mushrooms, or the rind on a soft piece of cheese. Occasionally, this was punctuated by a waft of something distinctly more meaty.

Matthew Stephens, the conservatory’s director, said the latter becomes more pronounced as the day heats up. The scent usually peaks at night, becoming eerily alike the stench of a dead body.

According to Stephens, the similarity isn’t merely a coincidence.

“We actually had a forensics pathologist in this morning,” he said Monday. “She confirmed there are five chemicals [in the plant] that overlap with rotting human flesh.”

Corpse flowers, which are indigenous to Sumatra, only bloom once every seven to ten years. However, this is the second year in a row that the rare event has taken place in San Francisco. Last year, another of the conservatory’s roughly a dozen corpse flowers — named Terra the Titan — also bloomed. The conservatory is now among just a handful of botanical gardens across the country to experience consecutive blooms.

Corpse flower blooms are not only rare. They’re also brief. As of Wednesday morning, Suma’s bloom cycle was showing signs of waning. To make sure that everyone has the chance to experience this unique event, the conservatory has extended its hours until 10pm.

For updates or more information, visit the Conservatory of Flowers' website.


CrosscurrentsSan Francisco