A Late Bloomer on the Mall

Over the past week, there has been a celebrity drawing crowds to the Botanic Garden.

It’s a rare plant from the rain forests of Sumatra known as the titan arum – growing up to twelve feet in height, and boasting one of the largest flowers in the world. The catch is that it rarely ever blooms – from once every few years to once every few decades.

When it does, it releases the stench of death far and wide. And then the bloom withers away within a day or two.

That’s how it earns its other name – “the corpse flower” – which is also the name of the next Tim Burton film.

A flowering titan arum has only been in display in the U.S. a few times, and the last time it was at the Botanic Gardens was in 2007.

The titan arum in full bloom.
The titan arum in full bloom.

Apparently the plant loves unabated heat and humidity, so it’s unclear why it doesn’t grow naturally in D.C. And considering our recent heat wave, it’s also unclear why this one took so long to open up. Waiting for it to bloom has been like waiting for the birth of the latest royal.

Luckily the Botanic Garden provided a live web cam to follow its progress day and night. They predicted it might bloom as early as last Monday, and hosted extended hours each day in anticipation.

But the titan arum kept its own schedule, and finally started to bloom on Sunday night. You can watch a time lapse here.

By the time it was fully open for the crowds today, the infamous stench had already disappeared. The only strong smell I could discern was probably coming from throngs of sweaty tourists and federal workers in line to see it.

Hopefully they’ll come back to see the rest of what the Botanic Garden has to offer – everything from prehistoric plants and jungles to ostentatious orchids and a majestic fountain designed by  Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, the sculptor of the Statue of Liberty.

The Botanic Garden has a long history on the Mall in one form or another, dating back to 1820 – and it’s a great and unexpected break from the monuments and museums.

There’s even a refreshing water mist released every few minutes for the plants – and the hot and weary masses.

If you want to see its latest star – the flowering titan arum – you have one more day before this late bloomer becomes history.

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