Mirage, a titan arum, has just experienced a rare bloom (Credit: Nicole Ravicchio/ Calacademy.org/ CC-BY-SA-2.0)

On February 27, 2024, biologists at San Francisco's California Academy of Sciences revealed that "Mirage," its resident titan arum, or corpse flower, had bloomed. The massive plants bloom once every seven to ten years. The flowers last just one to three days and emit a pungent odor reminiscent of rotting flesh. It is no wonder that titan arums are deemed the "world's stinkiest flower."

Mirage was gifted to the museum by the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers in 2017. At that time, the plant was believed to be between 2 to 5 years old. It has spent the past five years growing and storing energy in preparation for its first spectacular (and stinky) bloom. Like all titan arums, the 5 ft 5 in (165 cm) tall Mirage experienced a growth spurt of up to 7 in (17.8 cm) a day in the weeks before unfurling its petals. It grew to an impressive 7 ft (213 cm) tall by the time it bloomed. The flower is expected to collapse by February 29, 2024, and eventually wither and fall in on itself.

"Because of the tremendous energy needed to flower, Mirage may never bloom again or will take an additional two to three years to produce another flower," a museum spokesperson said.

Mirage experienced a massive growth spurt in the days before the flowering (Credit: Nicole Ravicchio/ Calacademy.org/ CC-BY-SA-2.0)

Like most things in nature, there is a good reason for the corpse flower's pungent smell. Experts believe it is hard for the plant to attract natural pollinators like bees and butterflies in the wild. Hence, it evolved to produce a foul smell to draw in insects like flies, beetles, and wasps that feed on dead animals. The stench draws the unsuspecting creatures to the massive flower filled with sticky pollen. Once that occurs, the flower withers, enabling the insects to escape with the pollen stuck to their bodies.

Titan arums are endemic to the equatorial forests of Sumatra, Indonesia. The plants can get up to 10 feet (304 cm) tall and weigh as much as 170 pounds (77 kg). Due to human activities like deforestation, there are only about 1,000 specimens left in the wild. An additional 500 are housed in botanic gardens worldwide. But less than 300 of them have flowered since record-keeping began in 1889.

Resources: Sfgate.com, calacademy.org, kew.org