For a few days in mid-July 2020, a botanical spectacle began to unfurl at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. Over the course of these two days, a massive titan arum, better known as a “corpse flower,” bloomed before crowds of hundreds of people waiting in socially distanced lines.
Among the largest inflorescences (the “bloom” is covered in smaller flowers) in the world, titan arums earned their popular name by emitting the overwhelming smell of rotting flesh to attract carrion feeders as pollinators. These rare flowers can be found in botanical gardens around the world—where they’re a major draw when they bloom—and are endemic to the hot, humid, equatorial rainforests of Western Sumatra.
The first cultivated titan arum bloomed at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew in 1889, launching a fervor for these strange flowers, which typically only bloom once or twice a decade.
Longwood’s monster titan arum, affectionately nicknamed Sprout, bided its time as a tuber and leafy stalk for more than four years, and was then pushed into bloom by a recent heatwave. Thousands of viewers tuned in to watch Sprout’s progress in a livestream, as its leafy spathe gradually opened up to reveal a deep maroon interior and signature tall, wrinkly spadix.