‘Scarlet’ the Corpse Flower Blooms at San Francisco’s Conservatory of Flowers

The infamously pungent ‘Scarlet’ the Corpse Flower bloomed in July 2023, attracting thousands of visitors from around the country.

On July 3, 2023, Scarlet the Corpse Flower (Amorphophallus titanium) bloomed in the Conservatory’s West Gallery, filling the glasshouse with a distinctly strong scent and attracting visitors from as far as Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Brazil.

The Corpse Flower, also known as Titan Arum or Amorphophallus titanium, is a member of the family Araceae and is native to the steep tropical rainforest hillsides of Sumatra, Indonesia. It has the largest unbranched inflorescence in the plant kingdom, typically 6-8 feet tall, and can grow leaves towering up to 15 feet tall, the largest leaf of any plant species.

An unbranched inflorescence is a structure composed of many individual flowers. That means the Corpse Flower is actually hundreds of tiny flowers that line the base of the spadix, which is the cone-shaped structure in the middle of the Corpse Flower, and they are protected by the ruffled modified leaf known as a spathe which is a deep red when fully open.

This plant is famous for emitting a foul scent similar to rotting animal flesh, thus its common name, Corpse Flower. The overwhelming scent is designed to trick pollinators such as carrion beetles and flies into thinking the plant is irresistible rotting organic matter. The Corpse Flower even heats up its bloom on the first evening to help disperse the odor. Some people reported being able to smell Scarlet from outside the building on the first night!

3-5 years

A mature Corpse Flower takes 3-5 years to store the energy it requires to bloom.

A mature Corpse Flower can only store enough energy to create a bloom every 3-5 years. Usually, either a leaf or flower grows during each cycle, not both. After enough energy has been stored from years of dormancy and leaf cycles, the inflorescence is only ‘blooming’ and pungent for two days before the spadix withers and collapses, and the spathe falls away.

Leading up to Scarlet’s bloom, guests who visited the West Gallery could mark their ‘vote’ on a whiteboard for whether they predicted that Scarlet’s fast-growing bud would be leaf or bloom and the Conservatory’s social media community joined in on the speculation too. Scarlet’s bloom was live-streamed on YouTube as well for guests to observe and enjoy the lifecycle of the bloom without the pungent smell.

Over the course of the weekend, the Conservatory of Flowers and Gardens of Golden Gate Park’s staff and volunteers excitedly welcomed over 7,200 visitors to meet Scarlet. At the same time, more than 62,000 viewers enjoyed the eventful weekend live on YouTube.

Marissa Fong

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