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That Stank-Ass Plant Is About to Stank Itself All Over Cal Academy’s Rainforest

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A woman and small child peer into the center of an enormous tropical plant.
Denise Leto and her son Lukas getting right up on in there at the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden in 2008. (Paul Chinn/ The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)

If you are the kind of human who enjoys pushing on bruises, eating hot sauce competitively or getting tattooed for eight hours in one sitting, you might be thrilled to hear there’s something new and painful for you to do at the California Academy of Sciences.

The San Francisco institution announced Thursday morning that its resident corpse flower is about to bloom. Meaning it’s about to smell like a whole bunch of dead stuff up in the Osher Rainforest.

The stanky plant in question is named Mirage (cute!) and is about five years old. That, apparently, is how long it takes to smell putrid in an awe-inspiring way. Unlike a human child of a similar age, Mirage is currently standing at about five feet four inches tall and is expected to have a growth spurt during its stinkiest period. Just like human teenagers.

An Asian man in shorts and t-shirt measures a long slender plant, assisted by a white woman at the base of the plant.
The Cal Academy corpse flower is expected to get up to seven feet tall. Something to look forward to! (Instagram/ @calacademy)

Mark your calendars now because Mirage is expected to unfurl its rancid odor on masochistic nostrils at some point between Feb. 25 and 29. It will only stand in its full, majestic, foul-smelling glory for one to three days.

The last time a corpse flower did something fetid-smelling in San Francisco it was at Golden Gate Park’s Conservatory of Flowers in July 2023. When that one (named Scarlet!) detonated, the president of the San Diego Botanic Garden painted a delightful picture of the stench in a conversation with NPR.

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“The way I describe it,” Ari Novy said, “is it smells like if you took your teenager’s dirty laundry and you put it in a big black garbage bag, and then you added in some hamburger meat, maybe some fish, a little garlic and some parmesan cheese. And you left that by the side of the road on a very hot desert day for about 24 hours. And then you came back to it. That’s not even exaggerating. That is really what the smell was.”

Isn’t nature swell?

Corpse flowers (official title: Amorphophallus Titanum) reek to high heaven as a means to attract pollinators, including flies and carrion beetles. (“Carrion,” for the uninitiated, is a fancy word to describe the rotting flesh of animals, so that’s nice.) The Cal Academy cautions that Mirage’s “foul scent is a unique blend, carrying notes of carrion, rotten fish, garlic and sweaty feet. The smell usually peaks during the first night of the bloom and dissipates quickly the next morning.”

Which is all to say, if you want to experience Mirage the big stinker in all its offensive splendor, be quick. This particular corpse flower won’t bloom again for another two or three years.

Feb. 29 Update: The California Academy of Sciences announced that the corpse flower had, in fact, begun to bloom on Feb. 28. The stank will persist for up to three days.

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