World's smelliest plant blooms again in Edinburgh

The world’s most pungent plant has burst into bloom for only the fourth time ever in Scotland, but people cannot go and smell it.

By George Mair
Sunday, 26th June 2022, 11:10 am
Updated Sunday, 26th June 2022, 11:22 am

The Amorphophallus titanum (titan arum) at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE), fully opened into one of the world's biggest and most spectacular blooms on Saturday.

Known as the "corpse flower" because it emits an eye watering whiff of rotting flesh after flowering to attract pollinating insects, staff at the Edinburgh attraction have dubbed their rare 20 year old specimen "New Reekie".

When it bloomed in 2015, 2017 and 2019, it attracted thousands of visitors keen to catch a waft of the smell, which has also been compared with old bins, sweaty shoes and sewage.

Titan Arum blooming in 2019

But the RBGE's famous glasshouses are currently closed as part of Edinburgh Biomes, the Garden’s multimillion pound restoration and construction project.

Sadie Barber, Research Collections Manager at RBGE, said: "We first saw signs that the flowering had started at about 7pm on Friday night and the Horticulture team stayed on for a few hours to watch one of nature's most magnificent spectacles literally unfold.

"By 10pm the plant’s famous smell was quite overpowering and by Saturday it was fully open for only the fourth time in its 20 years.

"We are sorry we can’t share New Reekie’s fourth flowering with the Garden’s visitors. But, while we are undergoing major renovations for the Edinburgh Biomes project our glasshouse plants are all locked away behind closed doors.

"During the years we are closed our horticulture work continues behind the scenes. We are potting, pruning, propagating and nurturing more than 40,000 plants in the Glasshouses and each and every one of these plants needs to be moved at least once.

"It’s a massive undertaking but in the end we will have updated facilities to help us protect plants like the Amorphophallus titanum and all the others we grow here for research, conservation, education, and display."

Native only to the Bukit Barisan range of mountains in West Sumatra, Amorphophallus titanum is famed for producing one of the world's largest flowers. Only blooming for a short period, the "dead-meat" stench is caused by a mix of gases emitted by the heating up of parts of the central flower spike at night.

Edinburgh's specimen was sown as a seed in the Netherlands in 2002 and the resultant corm was given to RBGE in 2003, when it was the size of a small orange. In 2010 it weighed 153.9kg, making it the largest ever recorded.

It was nurtured in a special tropical glasshouse for 12 years before finally flowering for the first time in 2015, earning the title "New Reekie" in reference to Edinburgh's historic "Auld Reekie" nickname.

Researchers were delighted when it flowered again in 2017 and 2019. But after three successes in 20 years, they say this could be its final smelly bloom.

Barber added: "In cultivation it's fairly common for the same plant to flower twice or even three times, but to flower four times or more is highly unusual.

"We suspect this is because New Reekie's corm was so substantial. Over the years, the huge blooms have used up the corm's stored energy and have caused it to shrink to less than half its 2010 size."