It’s happening! Rare corpse flower is blooming, stinking up Como Park Zoo and Conservatory

A close up of a large unfurling flower blossom
“Horace” the corpse flower begins to bloom at the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory in St. Paul on Thursday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Updated: 6:30 p.m.

At Como Park Zoo and Conservatory, one of its rarest and most pungent flowers is blooming.

The corpse flower (Amorphophallus titanum) affectionately nicknamed “Horace” is blooming for the first time since arriving at Como in 2019.

The flowers are known for the odor of rot they give off when they bloom and are incredibly rare — fewer than 1,000 individual plants remain in the wild, making witnessing its brief and malodorous bloom a rare opportunity.

A man holds a phone with a selfie stick in front of a flower
Eric Shoultz takes a selfie with “Horace” the corpse flower at the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory in St. Paul on Thursday. Shoultz says this was the third time he’s checked on the flower this week and that he gently cheers it on during each of his visits.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

The line to see the flower was long on Thursday morning although the smell was weaker as the flower had not fully bloomed yet. An early visitor was Andrea Hejl of New Brighton.

"It smells like a garbage can had been sitting outside, the driveway, in the sun for a few hours, and you open up the lid to see if it's been taken out and it hasn't and so it's a little rank. Not like 'I need to be out of this room right away,' but it's a little stinky,” Hejl said.

Oliver Perkins and Makenzie Lacina are funeral directors and visited Horace to compare the smell.

“I really wanted to see if it smelled what we smell at work,” Lacina said.

“It definitely smells but not as bad as what we are used to,” Perkins said. “Kind of disappointed it didn’t make me gag.”

“A bit more waterlogged smell, a bit fishy, but it’s very similar,” Perkins added.

people stand in line in a garden
The line to see the blooming corpse flower at Como Park Zoo and Conservatory in St. Paul wrapped through the conservatory and took more than two hours to get through on Thursday afternoon.
Feven Gerezgiher | MPR News

The line grew longer into Thursday afternoon, with some reporting they had waited for more than two hours in a line winding from the North Garden where the corpse flower is, through the conservatory, around three rows of stanchions in the visitor center and all the way to the street.

Still, the energy was joyous: Among them was a child who exclaimed they had captured the smell in a small Ziploc bag.

A woman grimaces in front of a corpse flower
Marcy Shaw waited about 3 hours and 15 minutes to visit Horace the corpse flower on Thursday, May 23, 2024, at Como Park Zoo and Conservatory in St. Paul. She described the stink as "like a porta potty."
Feven Gerezgiher | MPR News

“I think I waited about 3 hours 15 minutes or so and wow, it really lives up to its smell,” Marcy Shaw said, laughing. “It’s kind of like a porta potty I guess? It’s pretty bad.”

She said she read half a book in line, but it paid off.

“I just think it’s definitely worth the wait,” Shaw said.

Como’s livestream of the corpse flower showed it opening shortly after 8 a.m. Thursday. The stink is strongest in the first 12 to 24 hours, so you have through Friday morning for your best chance to take a sniff — although the bloom and possibly a lingering smell will remain for a couple days longer.

Brave sniffers can see and smell Horace at the Como’s Exhibit Gallery daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

A livestream is also available, with no smells included.

From seed to flower, corpse flower plants typically take seven to 10 years to grow. After the initial flowering, the plant will usually blossom again every two to four years.

Corpse flower plants emit heat and their horrible smell to attract pollinators that are also attracted to rotting animals, like carrion beetles and flies.

The plant is native to to the tropical rainforests of the island of Sumatra, Indonesia, according to the United States Botanic Garden. Como said it received two corpse flowers in 2019, and “they both come from seeds from the same parent plants that were started at the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden.”

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