Image: Corpse flower
A photo taken Saturday shows Virginia Tech's Amorphophallus titanum, or "corpse flower."
updated 8/8/2006 1:52:28 PM ET 2006-08-08T17:52:28

Hundreds of visitors filed through a Virginia Tech greenhouse to get a glimpse, and a whiff, of a powerfully malodorous "corpse flower" as it bloomed.

The large Indonesian plant, whose botanical name is Amorphophallus titanum, began opening up about 6 p.m. ET Friday and was in full bloom by early Saturday morning, curator Debbie Wiley-Vawter said in a telephone interview Monday.

The plant emits a stench to attract decaying flesh-eating beetles, flies and sweat bees for pollination. Once it blooms, the odor lingers for about eight hours, then it takes several more years before the plant has enough energy to bloom again.

How bad does it smell?

"It's like several days old road kill on a hot, sunny day," Wiley-Vawter said.

She said she went home shortly before midnight Friday and returned about 8:15 a.m. ET Saturday and could smell the plant from her parking spot about 100 feet from the greenhouse.

"Inside the greenhouse it was quite overpowering," she said.

Wiley-Vawter and her colleagues put out word Friday that the plant was blooming, drawing a steady stream of visitors. She said groups of 10 to 20 were brought in every half-hour until the plant closed up Saturday night. An undetermined number also watched the plant's progress via Webcam — but they were unable to sample the flower's signature stench.

Virginia Tech claims to have the only two blooming corpse plants in Virginia. The seedlings were donated to the school after James Symon of Sumatra collected and donated seeds to the International Aroid Society in 1993.

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