A crowd of people waited yesterday with bated breath to take in what a floriculturist at the Chicago Botanic Garden described to NBC Chicago as the "decaying, rancid, rotten stench" of one of the venue's most famous specimens. But Spike the corpse flower wasn't feeling particularly malodorous. Garden workers and spectators alike have been waiting for the 12-year-old titan arum, a rare plant native to the rainforests of Sumatra, Indonesia, to finally open and emit its famous smell. As the garden's blog explains, it takes a "tremendous amount of energy"—drawn from the sun and stored inside a beach ball-sized underground structure known as a "corm"—to produce its flower. That typically occurs "in its first decade or so of life," but last week's expected bloom time came and went; Spike apparently didn't have enough energy to finish the job, so scientists had to help.
Spike has become somewhat of a local celebrity, with nearly 60,000 visitors since it was put on public display Aug. 6 after beginning to show the initial signs of blooming; another 250,000 or so have checked it out via webcam, eager to see what would have been the first corpse flower to bloom in the Chicago area, WLS reports. Two scientists fist-bumped before starting the "operation" yesterday morning in which they pried off the plant's spathe and revealed its "ravishing" interior color, per the garden's blog. Unfortunately, there was no accompanying stink, though WLS notes that people who got close enough could detect "a faint scent that explained the plant's name." So what odor would have wafted through the air had Spike decided to play ball? After talking to the garden's floriculturist, NBC Chicago describes it as a noxious combo of "limburger cheese, rotting fish, sweaty socks, a sweet floral scent, and mothballs." (Read more Chicago stories.)