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Scents Of Doubt: The World’s 12 Smelliest Plants
By Steve,
Web Ecoist, 23 August 2016.

A rose by any other name may smell the same but these dozen flowers, plants and fungi just plain stink!

1. Rafflesia

A blooming Rafflesia flower in Kota Kinabulu, Malaysia. Credit: shankar s./Flickr.

Rafflesia is a catch-all encompassing approximately 28 species of parasitic flowering plants. Due to its outstanding size and at-times overpowering smell, Rafflesia has become the poster child for so-called “corpse flowers” and has been used to advertise tourist attractions featuring it. With most species of Rafflesia, the huge flower is the only visible part of the plant as the tropical vines it parasitizes conceal the five-petaled flower’s root.

2. Phallus indusiatus


The Maiden Veil Stinkhorn (Phallus indusiatus) is one type of “stinkhorn” mushroom which, like most foul-smelling plants, attracts flying insects as a means of spreading its spores (or in the case of flowering plants, pollen). This odd yet delicately beautiful fungus concentrates its pungent attractant on the mushroom’s cap - when flies land on the cap, the sticky spore-containing slime adheres to the bug’s legs and is thus spread to the next fungi on the fly’s journey.

3. Hoodia

Specimen of Hoodia gordonii in Tankwa National Park, South Africa. Credit: Geir K Edland/Flickr.

Hoodia is a cactus-like succulent plant native to southern Africa. About 25 distinct species comprise the Hoodia genus and all are considered to be borderline-endangered due to their extreme habitat in arid desert climes. Another threat to Hoodia comes from interest by pharmaceutical companies into the plant’s natural appetite-suppressant properties; recognized many centuries ago by the region’s native San people.

4. Cuckoo-Pint (Arum maculatum)

Cuckoo-Pint’s tempting berries in Essex, England. Credit: Alistair Rae/Flickr.

Cuckoo-Pint (Arum maculatum) is commonly found in European woodlands where it is known variously as snakeshead, adder’s root, arum lily, lords-and-ladies, devils-and-angels, cows-and-bulls, cuckoo-pint, Adam-and-Eve, bobbins, naked girls, naked boys, starchroot, wake robin, friar’s cowl and jack in the pulpit. Cuckoo-Pint plants attract insects in the spring, when the plant’s spadix emits a foul, excrement-like odor. By autumn, the plant exhibits a cluster of bright red berries which are poisonous, though their acrid and unpleasant taste usually prevents imbibers from consuming a dangerous amount.

5. Carrion Flower (Orbea variegata)

Credit: Leonora (Ellie) Enking/Flickr

The Carrion Flower (Orbea variegata) may look pretty but don’t lean in for a sniff…you’ll regret it, unless you’re a blowfly or other insect attracted to the odor of rotting meat. Some of these plants (and their relatives of the Stapelia genus) are so good at imitating the aroma of carcasses, the flies they attract will often lay their eggs directly onto the flower - not great for the flies but good enough for the flowers! Flickr user Leonora (Ellie) Enking brings us the lovely “Starfish Flower” above. “This is not actually part of the Manor Nursery collection,” explains Enking, “this one lives at my house (in southern England). Boy, does it smell!”

6. Titan Arum Lily (Amorphophallus titanum)

Credit: Jason Morrison/Flickr

The Titan Arum Lily (Amorphophallus titanum) has also been described as the world’s largest flower, although much of its size extends vertically as opposed to the more horizontal Rafflesia flower. The two big stinkers have another thing in common: both are native to the rainforests of Indonesia. The spectacular Titan Arum Lily above is, like many others of its kind, resident to a greenhouse far from its native land - in this case, the Berkeley Botanical Gardens in Oakland, California.

7. Aseroe rubra

Credit: David Midgely/Flickr

Native to Australia and known variously as the Starfish Fungus, Anemone Stinkhorn, and Sea Anemone Fungus, Aseroe rubra is pretty much a Stinkhorn without the horn…though it definitely retains the stink! Flies attracted to the fungi’s nose-wrinkling reek derive nourishment from the icky slime exuded by the mature mushroom; then spread its spores when they visit other members of the species.

8. Dracunculus vulgaris

Credit: Alwyn Ladell/Flickr

Don’t be put off by the Voodoo Lily’s Latin name of Dracunculus vulgaris, this relative of the much larger Titan Arum Lily has other ways to put you off…your lunch! This native of southeastern Europe displays a beautiful purple coloration when mature but its main attraction is to flies, courtesy of the very unpleasant odor it emits.

9. Yellow Skunk Cabbage (Lysichiton americanus)


Residents of and visitors to America’s Pacific Northwest have probably seen the lovely blooms of the Yellow Skunk Cabbage or American skunk-cabbage (Lysichiton americanus), though it’s the plant’s vile smell that will likely remain in their memories. Clusters of these plants have been known to wide areas with their pungent funk.

Credit: Max East/Flickr

Though edible if prepared properly, Yellow Skunk Cabbage contains needle-like crystals of Calcium Oxalate that can be very irritating. Bears, on the other hand, will seek out and eat these plants after hibernating due to their laxative qualities.

10. Pelican Flower (Aristolochia grandiflora)


The striking Pelican Flower (Aristolochia grandiflora) is one of the world’s largest flowers as well as one of the smelliest - odd how those two characteristics often go together. In any case, the Pelican Flower grows on vines and the flowers can measure up to 8″ wide and up to 2 feet long, including their “tails.” Though native to the Caribbean region, Pelican Flowers have been introduced to Florida as their unpleasant aroma attracts butterflies as well as common flies.

11. Bulbophyllum beccarii

Credit: Scott Zona/Flickr

Bulbophyllum beccarii is one of the largest orchids but sadly for some, it’s also one of the worst-smelling. This Borneo native has no roots as such; instead, its large bowl-shaped leaves collect debris from taller rainforest plants and digest the products of its decay. The plant’s flowers are clusters of tiny flowers which collectively exude the odor of rotting meat in order to attract pollinating flies.

12. Huernia zebrina


There are about 40 species in the Huernia genus of stem succulent desert plants, of which Huernia zebrina is one of most stunning visually. The plants grow in arid regions of southern Africa where they have traditionally been considered a “famine food” by the native peoples. One wonders how they got past the plants’ repulsive, carrion-like aroma but hey, we did state it was a food of last resort.

Top image: Adenna Rafflesia Garden signboard in Sabah, Malaysia. Credit: shankar s./Flickr.

[Source: Web Ecoist. Edited. Some images and links added.]

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