Rare corpse flower blooms in San Francisco for first time

The corpse flower bloom has been five years in the making in San Francisco and only blooms every two to three years or it may never bloom again.

SAN FRANCISCO – See it, smell it, but do it fast because the flower that reeks of rotting flesh, nicknamed the corpse flower, will only be in its rare bloom for 24 to 72 hours.

Step right up and get a whiff of the irresistible combination of rotting onions, garlic, rotten fish and sweaty socks, according to the California Academy of Sciences. The smell is irresistible to beetles and flies that dine on rotting flesh which the plant needs for pollination.

The red color also perpetuates the "meaty illusion," according to the New York Botanical Garden. The flower also generates heat, which allows the scent to travel further, according to the U.S. Botanic Garden.

"The smell will likely begin the afternoon of the bloom’s opening, and will peak later that same night. While the odor will certainly be strong, it’s unlikely to be too offensive for guests," said the Cal Academy. "That being said, deep whiffs are only advisable for those with strong sinuses."

If you are of weaker olfactory will, the academy has a live flower cam.

The science center's first corpse flower bloom ever started on Tuesday. And the bloom is rare.

First, the flowers are endangered, with only 1,000 left in nature, according to estimates by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.


Then, flowering takes tremendous energy, which the plant, Amorphophallus titanum, stores in a huge underground stem. To produce the first flower, the plant collects energy for about 7 to 10 years. After the first bloom, the plant needs 2 to 3 years to a decade to store enough energy to flower again. Cal Academy's botanist said it may never bloom again.

The plant, named Mirage, was ahead of schedule. It bloomed just five years after being gifted to Cal Academy.


Once the plant is ready to bloom, it wastes no time. It can grow up to six inches per day. In the wild, the arum can grow to 10 feet tall. Mirage is only about 6 feet tall and about 3 feet in diameter.

The corpse flower may look like one huge flower, but it is actually a group of smaller flowers acting as one inflorescence. Arum is the largest unbranched inflorescence in the world. If you were wondering, the largest flower in the world also smells like a rotting corpse, the Rafflesia arnoldi. Both are natives of Indonesia.


Mirage's bloom is even rarer than the average corpse flower bloom.

"This particular bloom is highly unusual: Mirage is producing a flower at an unseasonably early time during winter, and the corpse flower has just reached the average age of maturity for blooming," Cal Academy said in a statement.

Just how smelly is it?

FOX 4 Kansas City visited the University of Kansas' bloom in 2021. The reporter said about 200 people were in line to get in, and many, as you see above, took close sniffs.

The greenhouse manager knew the flower was blooming before he even stepped into the building.

"I came in at 12:30 to pollinate it, and at that point, I could smell it from outside the building, so I just breathed through my mouth the whole time I was in here," Sam Sumpert told FOX 4.