Photograph courtesy Cameron McIntire, University of Utah
Botanist Greg Wahlert and the new species. Photograph courtesy Lee Siegel, University of Utah
Published February 8, 2012
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. And a new species of Amorphophallus—the genus that includes the "corpse flower"—still smells like rotting meat and feces.
Discovered on an island off the coast of Madagascar, the newfound plant grows up to 5 feet (1.5 meters) high and blooms once a year with a "really foul" stench, according to discoverer Greg Wahlert, a postdoctoral researcher in botany at the University of Utah.
Lynn Bohs, a biology professor in the same lab as Wahlert, described the smell in a statement as a combination of "rotting roadkill" and a "Porta Potty."
The new flower adds to the roughly 170 species in the Amorphophallus genus, which means "misshapen penis" in Greek after the phallic shape of the plants' flowers.
Finding Flower a Stroke of Luck
Wahlert discovered the new species—named A. perrieri—in full bloom while collecting violets in two remote islands northwest of Madagascar in 2006 and 2007. (See more flower pictures.)
Suspecting the plant might be a new species, he brought back samples and began cultivating them. After consulting with an Amorphophallus expert in the Netherlands, he confirmed that A. perrieri was a previously undescribed species.
Because A. perrieri is dormant for much of the year, Wahlert's discovery is a case of good timing.
For months out of the year, there's little rain in that part of Madagascar, so the plants remain dormant underground.
"These things are growing out of the most miserable soil," said Wahlert, who is working on a scientific paper about the species.
The specimen he is cultivating in the university's greenhouse shot up its flower in just two weeks. If Wahlert had been visiting the islands at a different time, "I could have very easily missed it."
Stinky Flowers "Fascinating"
All Amorphophallus species emit smells to attract flies and other insects.
Though a few emit more pleasant aromas, such as chocolate or spices, most smell terrible to human noses, Wahlert said.
"You can imagine in Africa, where big game will die and rot in the sun ... that's what they smell like," Wahlert said.
Despite the stench, he added, "I'm glad I got a stinky one. It's fascinating to me."
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