What’s that smell in DC? Three corpse flowers are in bloom at the U.S. Botanic Garden

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While the rest of us were busy watching the eclipse, another rare event was happening down in Washington. Three corpse flowers went into bloom at the U.S. Botanic Garden, the first on Sunday, August 20.

“You typically don’t know when they’re gonna bloom,” said spokesman Ray Mims. The Botanic Garden has about 13 corpse plants, and it’s extremely rare for three to bloom at once – they only bloom every five to twelve years. According to the U.S. Botanic Garden, it could be the first time this has ever happened in North America.

For now, the blossoms are pulsating their scent into the air in waves. It’s an aroma that Mims said is a cross between sweaty gym clothes, natural gas, rancid cheese, mothballs and rotting flesh.

“Sweet, huh?”

The odor is meant to attract carrion beetles and flies that feed on dead flesh, which pollinate the plant in its native Sumatra. Here in the U.S., the scent attracts not insects, but visitors, who come in droves to catch a big whiff. The stink gets worse at night – and people are disappointed if they don’t get to smell it.

“We had a fragrance company come in to reproduce it,” said Mims. Staff have it in a bottle to bring out should the corpse flower be uncooperative.

As stinky as the plant is, said Mims, “You do get used to it after a while.” Though he said he became nauseated after standing next to one for a long time recently.

Mims said it’s “absolute coincidence” that the blooms happened around the same time as the historic eclipse of August 21. The plants bloom year-round in Sumatra, and in the hottest months of July and August in this region, said Mims.

The event has stirred up a lot of excitement during what’s usually a slow season at the U.S. Botanic Garden.

“It’s kind of like the plant world’s panda,” he said. “We love to have the opportunity for people to come see it.”

The Garden has extended admission hours until 10 pm on Tuesday evening to accommodate curious noses. Admission is free.