Chicago has many smells. From the delicious aromas of Garrett’s Popcorn to the enticing Chicago dogs at a baseball game, these scents are favorites around Chicago. But, one smell in Chicago is eagerly anticipated for a different reason. The Chicago Botanic Garden is awaiting the rare bloom of Spike, the titan arum or corpse flower.
With the name like corpse flower, the distinctive smell from Spike is not the sweet, floral notes expected from a blooming flower. The terrible stench, coupled with its odd shape and large size, makes Spike a popular attraction in the Semi-Tropical Greenhouse at the Chicago Botanic Garden.
The titan arum is native to the rainforests of western Sumatra, Indonesia and it rarely blooms. The Chicago Botanical Garden speculates that Spike will bloom sometime in the next two weeks. Chicagoans will have the opportunity to view and smell this rare bloom. On the evening that the titan arum reaches peak bloom, the Garden will remain open to the public till 2 a.m.
Provided by the Garden, a few key points about the titan arum are:
- The titan arum can take a decade to produce one bloom, consisting of a tall spadix (flower structure) wrapped by a spathe (a frilly leaf), in hopes that pollination will produce seed to grow the next plant.
- The true flowers (about 750 female and 450 to 5,000 male) are located in two rings at the bottom of the spadix.
- When ready for fertilization, the female flowers emit a scent that attracts their pollinators, carrion beetles and flesh flies.
- As the plant heats up internally to more than 90 degrees Fahrenheit, the scent is volatilized, enabling it to travel up to an acre to alert pollinators.
- The nauseating stench, which has been described as a combination of limburger cheese, garlic, rotting fish, and smelly feet, lasts for a few hours and is strongest in the early hours of the morning.
- By daybreak, the scent begins to dissipate and the male flowers open, releasing pollen that covers the unsuspecting insects that are still in the “vase: formed by the spathe.
- Having flowered and possibly been pollinated, the bloom quickly closes and the spadix collapses, releasing the insects to pollinate other plants.
The Chicago Botanic Garden is located at 1000 Lake Cook Road, Glencoe, IL 60022. Admission to the gardens is free. Parking rates apply.
Follow Chicago Botanic Garden on social media at @chicagobotanic and #CBGSpike for updates.