Likely the Most Unique Looking—and Smelling—Plant in History

Photo: Martin Hughes-Jones/

Name: Corpse flower (Amorphophallus titanum)

Zones: 10–11

Size: 6 to 9 feet tall and 4 to 5 feet wide

Conditions: Partial shade; moist, well-drained soil

Native range: Sumatra

As a child, I lusted in my heart. Not, as my parents feared, for the women pictured in Playboy, but for corpse flower, whose sexy photo first appeared in A.B. Graf’s 1959 plant porn book, Exotica II. Instantly, my life quest became acquiring this amazing plant. In the early 1990s, after only 26 documented flowerings worldwide, I heard that Dr. James Symon of California was seeking funding for an expedition to Sumatra to collect seed. I was in. As a young business owner, I was broke with maxed-out credit cards, but who needs to eat when you have the chance to acquire the plant with the world’s largest inflorescence? Somehow I scraped up the money to buy a share of what would turn out to be four expeditions over several years before seed was finally found.

Six hundred flowerings later, corpse flowers are still rare and coveted by people for whom they aren’t winter hardy—myself included. Most people who purchase them don’t have housing adequate to get the plant large enough to flower—and that’s if they can keep them alive. But in my opinion, it’s worth the try. I guess there’s something magical about an 8-foot-tall inflorescence that smells like two-week-old garbage that I just can’t resist.

Back to collection

Photo: courtesy of Plant Delights Nursery

The Expert: Tony Avent is the owner of Juniper Level Botanic Garden and Plant Delights Nursery in Raleigh, North Carolina.

From Fine Gardening #193

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