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Here Comes Li'l Stinker, The Corpse Flower About To Bloom At The Huntington

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Get your noses ready.

The "corpse flower" at the Huntington Library botanical garden in San Marino is on the verge of blooming within the next few days. No one knows exactly when, because the plant has a mind of its own.

The corpse flower, also known as Amorphophallus Titanum, is not a flower for funerals, nor is it really a flower. It's the world's biggest flower stalk (or "unbranched inflorescence" in plant-speak), and its name refers to the smell emitted when it blooms, which happens every four to six years. The Huntington has 45 of the 4-foot-tall plants.

The signs pointing to the bloom? Li'l Stinker, as the plant is affectionately called around the Huntington, is more plump than usual, and its height growth has slowed. According to Huntington botanist Brandon Tam, the plant blooms aftergrowth has peaked and then stopped -- and the death flower just did that.

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Details of the plant's enormous leaves. (Photo: The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.)

The bloom is not only rare, but really short-lived. It takes an enormous amount of energy to open up, so the bloom will only last a few days. This one is expected to be open for a maximum of 36 hours. Thirty-six very stinky hours.

But that brevity works just well for our smelly friend: the corpse smell attracts all kinds of pollinators and bugs at night, and the chances for successful pollination are very high.

Li'l Stinker is confident -- it knows that it attracts what it needs, and only does the work for about two days. Tam says it "doesn't feel the need" to bloom for longer.

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The ready-to-bloom plant will be on special display at The Huntington. (Photo: The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.)
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When the corpse flower isn't growing, swelling or blooming, it's dormant, which makes it a relatively low-maintenance plant for the botanical crew. For three to five months, it'll just store up its own energy up, slowly putting up a leaf for photosynthesis. (Keep in mind: this plant is the biggest of its kind, and growing something that big takes a lot of energy.) Once it's stored enough, it'll bloom.

This will be the Huntington's sixth corpse flower bloom. Other Amorphophallus Titanums bloomed there in 1999, 2002, 2009, 2010 and 2014.

You can see -- and smell -- the bloom for yourself. It will be on display when it blooms in the Rose Hills Foundation Conservatory for Botanical Science of the Huntington, with no extra charge.