By Letitia Stein
(Reuters) - The blossoming of twin "corpse" flowers, whose towering, phallic-shaped blooms reek of rotten flesh, is drawing tourists like flies to what experts are calling a lunar eclipse of the botany world.
It is unusual to see one of these endangered titans bloom in its native Indonesia, much less in captivity, and two are putting on a show within days of each other at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota, Florida.
The creamy yellow flower - actually a stalk called an inflorescence containing thousands of flowers - extends up to 10 feet (3 meters) and emits a stench like decomposing flesh to lure pollinating flies and beetles. The excitement lasts for just 48 hours before it closes, usually not to be seen again for years.
"I always warn people not to eat lunch before they come see it because they are not going to keep it down," said Angel Lara, greenhouse manager at Selby Gardens, located on Florida's west coast. "Everything about this thing is large and in charge."
At botanical gardens across North America, a typical year may see four Amorphophallus titanum plants bloom, Lara said. Earlier this spring, Foster Botanical Garden in Honolulu, Hawaii, also expected multiple blooms in rapid succession. Lara said the appearance of a signature corpse bloom is to gardening aficionados as exciting as the periodic lunar eclipse.
In Florida, the titan nicknamed Seymour surprised Selby Gardens by rapidly opening Friday morning, ahead of its expected schedule. Nearly 2,000 visitors came during the weekend to goggle at its 6 feet (2 meters) of putrid glory, four times normal attendance.
Sibling Audrey - also named after a character in "Little Shop of Horrors," a musical comedy about a blood-thirsty plant - is expected to follow suit in eight to 10 days.
In daily Facebook updates, Selby Gardens said Audrey grew 4 inches (10 cm) overnight and now stands 4 feet (122 cm) tall. Gardeners plan to inseminate her with pollen harvested from Seymour in the hopes of seeding offspring.