The Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park now has a live feed on YouTube starring its titan arum—aka the “corpse flower”—so that watchers can track the progress of its ongoing bloom in real time.
It’s not a terribly exciting spectacle minute to minute, of course; essentially interchangeable with watching grass grow. But conservatory staff expect it to fully blossom sometime this week, perhaps as early as today.
The blooming of the giant plant (nicknamed “Terra” by conservatory staff) is a sight years in the making. The conservatory web page explains its baffling life cycle:
The seed grows into a small leaf with an underground tuber, similar to a potato. After a year, the leaf dies back and the plant goes into dormancy for months. The plant goes through years of dormancy and leaf cycles. [...]
Finally, 7-10 years later, the plant has stored enough energy to bloom. The [blossom] takes about a month to mature and is only open and pungent for two days.
“Pungent” is the key word here. Corpse flowers are so called because their gigantic blossoms smell remarkably and alarmingly like rotting meat.
As disgusting as that may be, it’s critical to the Indonesian oddball’s life cycle. The smell attracts carrion-seeking insects who serve as pollinators.
The titan arum blossom isn’t actually a flower. Rather, it’s hundreds of flowers joined together into one mammoth structure, called an “unbranched inflorescence.”
And on top of all that, in its present state it looks alarmingly like one of the evil alien pods from Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
In short, it’s the weirdest plant in San Francisco. In spite of the infamous odor, the conservatory expects thousands or even tens of thousands of people to visit during the odoriferous exhibition, and will extend its visiting hours.
When “Trudy,” one of UC Berkeley’s own corpse flowers, blossomed in 2015, a thousand people came. Botanical garden staff described the smell as “Like mega dirty socks wrapped around a rotting steak.”
According to the UK-based eco charity the Eden Project, titan arum are threatened by deforestation, and may one day yield a cure to the dreaded African sleeping sickness.
“This plant rarely blooms in cultivation,” according to its Eden Project profile.