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Importance of Insects

Describes the ecological roles and human uses of insects.

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The Corpse Flower
Teacher Contributed

The Scent of a Flower

Sumatran Corpse Flower (Amorphophallus titanum)


The Corpse Flower

Student Exploration

A Big Bloomer

People are familiar with the sweet scents of flowers. Poems are written about them, candles and perfume are made to smell like them, and many people can recall wonderful memories when they smelled them. Smell is a powerful sense and people love the smell of flowers. Oh, but not all flowers smell sweet, because the flowers don't seem to care what humans think of their scent. For them scent has a purpose and some of them smell just plain foul. Take Amorphophallus titanum for instance, or as it is commonly known, the Corpse Flower.

Here you can see time-lapse video of this blooming giant

The Corpse Flower is not the only plant to emit a funky smell (you can learn about the "Skunk Cabbage" later). The scent of a flower is associated with pollination in many, if not all, cases. So how a flower smells depends on the pollinator it is trying to attract. In the case of the Corpse Flower, its pollinators seem to like the smell of rotting flesh. So maybe the real question should be, why are we attracted to the same smells as some insects?

Extension Investigation

Use the resources below to answer the following questions:

  1. Where is the Corpse Flower's (Amorphophallus titanum) native habitat?
  2. What pollinates Corpse Flowers? How is this connected to its scent?
  3. There can be a very very long time between flowerings of Amorphophallus titanum, on the order of decades. What have the botanists at Kew Gardens discovered about how the abundance of individuals affects the time between flowerings?
  4. How long does a Corpse Flower stay in bloom? Why do you think it does not stay in bloom longer? How does the size of the flower relate to the length of time it stays in bloom for this species?

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