The male and female flowers rest at the base of the shaft-like spadix. They are separate, and mature on different days. (Johanna Varner/KQED Science)
Update: 9:55 p.m., July 26, 2015
After days of coyly tempting staff and visitors with the occasional pungent whiff of rotting flesh, Trudy the corpse flower finally blossomed on Saturday night at the UC Botanical Garden.
A record crowd of over 2,250 guests turned out to see and smell the 56-inch bloom today, almost ten times the typical number for a busy weekend day. Many visitors waited in line for over an hour.
"I've never seen anything like this before," says Paul Licht, the garden's director, gesturing towards the queue of people eager to feel queasy at the flower's stench.
Trudy will remain on display for several days, but the odor has already started to fade. And in a few days, the whole flower will collapse so that it may restart its life cycle.
Update: 1:10 p.m., July 24, 2015
Good news for Bay Area working stiffs: you haven't missed the chance to make yourself nauseous at the UC Botanical Garden. Despite high hopes for a putrid performance today, Trudy the corpse flower has not yet bloomed.
Paul Licht, director of the garden, had expected the plant to bloom overnight. But this morning, he says there are signs that the plant is getting ready to bloom.
Specifically the skirt-like structure that wraps around the base of the flower, called the spathe, is starting to loosen. When the plant blooms, the spathe will fully open, exposing hundreds of tiny flowers and the wicked stench that so many visitors are dying to smell.
"It's impossible to predict for sure," he says. "But it looks different this morning in an important way. It could be tonight."
The UC Berkeley Botanical Garden has a stinky spectacle on display this week: a plant that looks a bit like a five-foot tall banana and smells like a dead mouse.
"It’s clearly, to me, the odor of a dead mammal, as opposed to a fish," says Paul Licht, the director of the botanical garden. "Or maybe a dead rat. A big dead rat. Or a dead cow."
It’s actually a blooming titan arum plant, also known as the “corpse flower” or by its colorful scientific name Amorphophallus titanum, which means "giant misshapen penis."
And to see one in full bloom is a rare sight, since titan arums typically only flower once every few years.
"It’s a pretty fantastic thing to witness, even if you’ve seen it before," says Licht. "I’m still completely drawn to it. It’s something you want to see over and over again."
But what's with the stench? Like most flowers, the titan arum is using odor to call in its pollinators. But instead of luring bees or bats with the sweet smells of pollen and nectar, the “corpse flower” produces an odor like rotten flesh to attract carrion flies and beetles.
It also heats its flower to over 100-degrees, which helps the foul smell permeate its native Sumatran rainforests.
At UC Berkeley, the botanical garden staff has nicknamed this plant “Trudy.” This is the fourth time it has bloomed in the 20 years since it was planted.
And its flowering stalk is growing quickly. As of Tuesday morning, Trudy stands at 53 inches tall, having grown two inches overnight.
Licht says it's impossible to predict when the flower will open in all its gory glory, but his best guess is that it will happen toward the end of this week.
Its famous “corpse” odor will only be produced for the last 24 hours of the bloom. Then the flower will collapse to restart the plant’s life cycle.
To accommodate visitors, the botanical garden will have special visiting hours this week, until the plant flowers.
"It’s a fascinating flower, and it stinks," says Licht. "But in a way that somehow appeals to people. People go to horror movies to be scared, right? Well, they go to see this flower to be made nauseous."