‘Rotting corpse’ flower blooms in Yapeen

A Yapeen woman bought a plant for its variegated leaves. A few years later this popped up – and it stunk.

A Yapeen woman bought a plant for its variegated leaves. A few years later this popped up – and it stunk.

Five years ago Janine Purvis bought a plant with striking leaves at a garage sale without a clue as to what it was. 

One day it sprouted a single, large flower the purply-maroon of a particularly nasty bruise. 

At the same time the Yapeen family noticed something else new – the smell of rotting flesh wafting through their yard. 

“My eldest son was brave enough to stick his nose into the flower and he said: ‘Oh my God! It smells like a rotting corpse,” Mrs Purvis said. 

“Now we refer to it as our rotting corpse by the front step.” 

That was three years ago. Every year since the single flower has returned. Each year bigger. Each year stinkier. 

Earlier this week the flower opened for the third year, with its bewildered owners still none-the-wiser as to what is was or whether it was normal for a flower to smell “like rotting meat”. 

Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria horticultural botanist Rob Cross said that was a common reaction to the uncommon plant.

“It’s a dracunculus vulgaris – quite a foul smelling plant,” Mr Cross said. 

My colleague had a neighbor growing one, before he knew what it was he thought he had a dead possum under floor … that's the sort of smell we’re talking about,” - Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria horticultural botanist Rob Cross

Though rare in Victoria the plant’s distinctive aroma has led to a litany of colourful common names around the world – dragon arum, voodoo lily, snake lily and the particularly appropriate stink lily among them. 

Other stink flowers have proved a magnet for both flies and tourists - here's a timelapse of a flowering titan arum at Mount Lofty Botanic Garden.

So what happened to stopping and smelling the roses? Why would a flower opt for a foul stench when in the mood to reproduce? 

“For the same reason as other flowers smell sweet,” Mr Cross said. 

“It’s about attracting pollinators to cross fertilize from one plant to another.”

But instead of the birds and the bees, its the blow flies which do the dirty for the stink lily.

Fortunately though, the stench and the flies are only a temporary annual visitor to the Purvis front yard.

“The flower only lasts a few days before it dies,”  Mrs Purvis said.

Which possibly makes it one the few organisms on Earth whose aroma improves after death.

Mr Cross said it the uniqueness of the dracunculus vulgaris which gave it a certain allure.

He said Melbourne's Royal Botanic Gardens rare titan arum – or "corpse flower" – had proved a magnet for visitors.

“It’s the curiosity about the wonderful diversity of nature,” the botanist said. 

WORLD'S LARGEST FLOWER: Thousands flocked to see the smelly titan arum when it bloomed for three days in Melbourne last year. Photo: Chris Hopkins

WORLD'S LARGEST FLOWER: Thousands flocked to see the smelly titan arum when it bloomed for three days in Melbourne last year. Photo: Chris Hopkins

“I’m interested in all plants, it doesn't matter if the smell is unpleasant or not, all plants are interesting.

“I just wouldn't plant one next to my barbecue.” 

But Ms Purvis – a health and disability worker at Windarring and Castlemaine Health – said she’d come to love the “rotting corpse” by her front step. 

It’s a stunning flower and very pleasing to eye … but you don’t want to stick your nose down the centre of it," - Stink lily owner Janine Purvis

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