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Artie Thompson of Minneapolis, right, reacted on Wednesday as she got a whiff of the Amorphophallus titanum, commonly known as the corpse flower, in St. Paul. Thompson came to see the distinctively stinky plant with her children Jacqui, left, and Allanzo. The odor? “Old baby hamper,” she said.

Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

The corpse flower only blooms every 15 years and makes a lasting, fetid impression when it does.

Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

A stinking violet?

  • Article by: ALLIE SHAH
  • Star Tribune
  • April 10, 2008 - 12:01 AM

You know that saying you catch more flies with honey than vinegar? Not so with the corpse flower on display in St. Paul.

A rare plant from Sumatra, it blooms only once every 15 years and when it does ... pee-eww!

The pungent odor of rotting flesh attracts insects to pollinate the flower. On Wednesday, at the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory at Como Park, the stench drew admirers of a different ilk -- corpse flower groupies.

People such as Linda Peterson, of Maplewood, who stood awestruck before the tall, green stalk sitting in a giant terra cotta pot. She pinched her nose, peered through her glasses and shook her head. Then she snapped a photo.

"Rotten hamburger," she declared to a bystander, still holding her nose. "I've never smelled death but ohhh ..."

Like many who popped in, Peterson had heard that it would bloom for about two days this week and she didn't want to miss out.

As soon as she learned that it had started stinking, she raced over to the conservatory to see -- and smell -- for herself.

"I wanted to experience it in its glory," Peterson said, calling it a primal urge. The smell was a small price to pay for the chance to witness a rare event in nature. "Let's face it, sometimes we have to take the good with the bad," she said.

As of 2007, only 122 of the plants have been known to bloom worldwide.

Its scientific name is the Amorphophallus titanum, but you can call it Bob. After Brian O'Brien, the chemistry professor at Gustavus Adolphus College who gave the plant to the conservatory three years ago. A larger corpse flower bloomed last spring at Gustavus, making it the state's first corpse flower bloom. It, too, drew large crowds.

Margaret Yeakel-Twum, a gardener at the conservatory who has been caring for the plant since it arrived, looked as proud as a new mom Wednesday as she introduced visitors to the corpse flower. "If you stand right here, you can get a whiff of it," she said excitedly, pointing to the sweet spot in the room where the odor was strongest.

Following her cue, Brook Duerr leaned over one of his daughters and inhaled deeply. "Woo!" he shouted, waving his hand in front of his face. "I went down to pick her up and either she stinks or that does!" He and his family stayed in the room for a few more minutes, breathing in and giggling.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Bob reeked but not as much as expected.

Like dead fish when they wash back up on the shore, said one woman.

Rotten eggs, said Norman Patton, 12.

Like bad morning breath, his mother, Jody Patton, said.

Gym shorts, suggested another visitor.

"Like a tangomutt," said Fiona Sweeney, 5, who coyly declined to say what her word meant exactly but said it was stinky.

"I thought it would smell worse," said Louisa Quast, a student at the University of Minnesota and horticultural enthusiast. When she heard that the flower was about to bloom, she excitedly told all her friends about it. "Have fun with that," they told her, Quast said, adding: "They looked at me like I was crazy."

Allie Shah • 651-298-1550

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