Around Town

What does a corpse flower smell like? People lined up to find out at UNC Charlotte

Over the weekend, hundreds of visitors at UNC Charlotte’s McMillan Greenhouse witnessed the rare blooming of “Odie,” the university’s titan arum plant.

You might be thinking, “Big deal. It’s a plant.” But there’s a reason why the titan arum is often referred to as the “rock star” of the plant world.

“It’s outrageous, it’s loud, it’s a spectacle and it puts on a show for a brief period of time,” said UNC Charlotte Botanical Garden Interim Director Paula Gross. “It’s like going to a concert.”

Quick facts: 

– The plant’s scientific name is Amorphophallus titanum, which roughly translates to giant misshapen penis.

– The name Odie is short for Odoardo Beccari, the man who discovered the titan arum in 1878 in its native Sumatra.

– Odie peaked at a height of 5 feet, 4 inches.

– When the titan arum blooms, it slowly unfurls its vibrant reddish purple skirt.

– For about 12 hours, its massive horn generates heat and disperses a cocktail of chemicals with a scent typically described as “rotting flesh.” That’s why it’s also called the “corpse flower.”

– The smelly chemical compounds in titan arums are also found in rotting onions, garlic, putrid fish and sweaty socks.

– Sound sexy? Well, that’s what the plant’s stench is all about: reproduction. This smelly, evolutionary wonder attracts flies and beetles, which love to lay their eggs in animal carcasses.

These smells typically repel humans, but Odie had people waiting in line just to catch a whiff.


The closest comparison I have for Odie’s scent is the bag of potatoes I recently forgot about for weeks in my apartment pantry, as well as hints of warm dumpster.

Here’s what other visitors thought:

Pat Merriott

Pat Merriott: “Strange. It reminds me of that movie – ‘Little Shop of Horrors.’ It smells like rotting something, I don’t know what.”

John Mills

John Mills: “You know … it just smells like a flower.”

Donna Norfolk

Donna Norfolk: “There is a dumpster smell. It’s not bad – not as bad as it sounded. But it’s beautiful.”

Tori Bonnell

Tori Bonnell: “It smells like an E. coli bacteria culture. No one’s gonna know that the heck that means.”

Ian and Wren Callahan

Wren Callahan: “I don’t even know what it smelled like”

Ian Callahan: “Should we get one at home?”

Wren: “No.”

Ian: “It smells like Wren’s room when she doesn’t clean it.”

Wren: “No! It kind of smelled like a trash can.”

Jordan Snyder
Jordan Snyder noon @JordySny