Thousands line up for rare corpse flower bloom near Chicago

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'It Smelled Like Dirty Gym Shoes': Corpse Flower Finally Blooms


Thousands of curiosity seekers lined up in the blustery, dark Chicago Botanic Garden on Tuesday night to catch a rare glimpse of a 4-1/2-foot (1.4-meter) tall corpse flower in full bloom, but not in full stench.

The garden in a north Chicago suburb planned to stay open until 2 a.m. on Wednesday to let the crowds see the blooming corpse flower - properly known as the titan arum or Amorphophallus titanum - during the 24 to 36 hours it is expected to stay in bloom.

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Titan arum flowers typically stink like rotting flesh when they bloom. The smell is aimed at attracting pollinators that help it reproduce.

However, evening visitors to the first titan arum ever to bloom in the Chicago area were relieved, or maybe disappointed, that the stench had dissipated over the day. "It wasn't as smelly as we thought," said Hanam Tran, a 30-year-old administrator who stood in line for an hour with his mother and another relative to see the pale-green, phallus-shaped plant with a frilly, dark red bloom around the bottom.

The titan arum, dubbed Alice, surprised experts when it suddenly bloomed this week. Another titan arum at the garden, Spike, failed to bloom after weeks of anticipation this past summer. A Spike webcam drew 350,000 views and prepared the public and garden staff for Alice.

See photos of corpse flowers in bloom:

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Thousands line up for rare corpse flower bloom near Chicago
Dave Angelini of Coventry, Conn., smells an amorphophallus titanum plant, also known as the corpse flower at the University of Connecticut greenhouse in Storrs, Conn., Saturday, May 12, 2007. The rare flower, native to the rain forests of Sumatra, Indonesia, began blooming on Friday and is expected to last for 48 hours. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
A Titan arum, also knows as the "corpse flower" is seen in bloom at the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington, Monday, July 22, 2013, where visitors hope to get a whiff of its characteristic smell of rotting flesh. The smell had peaked in the early morning hours, yet despite the lack of stink visitors streamed in to get a look at the unusual plant. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
A woman takes a photograph of the Amorphophallus Titanum, also known as the Titan Arum or Corpse flower, because of it's smell, one of the world's largest flowers, at the National Botanic Garden in Meise near Brussels, Monday, July 8, 2013. The rare phallus-like flower that springs from the plant only survives about 72 hours. (AP photo/Yves Logghe)
Austin Lasseter, of Alexandria, Va., with his children Sarah, 8, left, and Pete, 4, look at the Titan arum, also known as the "corpse flower" in expectation of getting a whiff of it's characteristic blooming smell of rotting flesh, Monday, July 22, 2013, at the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington. The smell had peaked in the early morning hours, yet despite the lack of stink visitors streamed in to get a look at the unusual plant. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
A Titan Arum, also known as the "corpse flower" blooms at the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington, Monday, July 22, 2013. The plant peaked in it's characteristic blooming smell of rotting flesh very early in the morning, yet despite the lack of stink visitors streamed in to get a look at the unusual plant. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Visitors of the Botanical Gardens in Copenhagen saw nothing less than a sensation when an Amorphophallus Titanum bloomed for the first time in nine years in Denmark, Friday, June 22, 2012. However, it might be a malodorous experience as the giant plant emits a strong odor of carcass and therefore has been nicknamed the Corpse-flower or Mr. Stinky. (AP Photo/Polfoto/Jacob Ehrbahn)
Dan Hagen of Berlin, Conn., smells the University of Connecticut's rare "corpse flower", the bud of the exotic Sumatran plant, the Titan Arum, in Storrs, Conn., Friday, June 17, 2011. The plant has bloomed only twice since the seed was planted in 1994, and previous blooms in 2004 and 2007 drew scores of visitors. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
This Saturday, Aug. 5, 2006, photo provided by Virginia Tech shows the blossom of a Amorphophallus titanum, or "corpse flower" in Virginia Tech greenhouse in Blacksburg, Va. The plant, a native of Indonesia, emits a stench to attract decaying flesh-eating beetles, flies and sweat bees for pollination. Once it blooms, the odor lingers for about eight hours, then it takes several more years before the plant has enough energy to bloom again. (AP Photo/Virginia Tech, Al Kennedy)
Visitors crowd around a Titan arum, also known as the "corpse flower" in expectation of getting a whiff of it's characteristic blooming smell of rotting flesh, Monday, July 22, 2013, at the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington. The smell had peaked in the early morning hours, yet despite the lack of stink visitors streamed in to get a look at the unusual plant. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
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"We were certainly all disappointed with Spike not opening a month ago. However we were able to learn a lot," said Tim Pollak, the outdoor floriculturist who has worked for 12 years to bring one of the garden's eight titan arum's to this stage.

Mike Sarchet, 23, a consultant who visited Alice with a friend, said he had watched and waited in vain for Spike to bloom.

"Then I saw on Facebook today that this one surprise bloomed and I said 'we have to go right away after work'," Sarchet said. The Botanic Garden had seven experts on hand to explain the bloom to visitors who filed through a greenhouse. Pollak said Alice lived up to her corpse flower name early in the morning, giving off a horrendous stink that faded later in the day.

Titan arums are native to the Indonesian rainforest and typically take 10 years to bloom, and then die.

Some of Alice's pollen - which can be frozen for up to two years - will be donated to other gardens with rare titan arum plants.

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