Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Step Right Up, Folks. Don't be Shy!

In What the Nose Knows, I describe the recent mania for viewings/smellings of the so-called Indonesian Corpse Flower, a name botanical garden publicists find more congenial than Giant Misshapen Penis—which is the literal meaning of the plant’s formal name, Amorphophallus titanum. The rapid-growing, six- to nine-foot tall flowering stalks of this tropical tuber generate heat and a smell uncannily like that of rotting flesh. All the better to attract as pollinators the blowflies and other insects that feed or lay eggs on carcasses.

Once relegated to the back rooms of a few major conservatories, A. titanum has been shoved into the spotlight as botanical garden directors cash in on the public’s morbid curiosity; it’s the vegetable version of the repulsive “Bodies” exhibit.

If you feel like seeing the Lobster Boy of the aromatic sideshow, get yourself to St. Louis or Pasadena. And hurry, the penis plant shrivels within a day or two and then the carnival moves on.

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