Morticia and me: An encounter with the Franklin Park Zoo corpse flower

Andrew Geanacopoulos directed people around Morticia the corpse flower on Wednesday.
David L. Ryan/Globe Staff
Andrew Geanacopoulos directed people around Morticia the corpse flower on Wednesday.

With 95-degree temperatures outside, trudging through the Franklin Park Zoo at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday was an ordeal — especially since I went in through the wrong entrance by accident. But after all, it was Morticia and “calling hours” for the corpse flower weren’t going to last very long.

The 4-foot, 9-inch tall, 200-pound flower that grows straight out of the soil and takes about 15 years to bloom a single time started opening Tuesday night.

The blooming stage of the amorphophallus titanum lasts up to 48 hours.


The flower became the talk of the town over the weekend as about 16,000 experts, plant lovers, and curious Bostonians waited for the stinky sensation — known for the corpse-like stench it emits — to open up, many visiting well before it bloomed.

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So it was worth ducking into the even more hot and humid greenhouse at the zoo on the hottest day of the year so far. Though after about a minute I felt like I was going to melt.

So what did it smell like?

It was like a mixture of something that I forgot about in the bottom of my fridge-- probably beef, but maybe chicken — and garbage that had been sitting in the sun. Or maybe a wet dog that has needed a bath for a year. It wasn’t quite as bad as a mouse dying in the wall.

As I stood in the roped-off area in front of the plant, I was told that the smell wasn’t as strong as it had been earlier. Good thing. I could tolerate a couple of minutes to gawk at the bizarrre plant, but I was happy to get outside.


The corpse flower’s rank smell, according to scientists, is meant to attract beetles in the flower’s native Western Indonesia in order to pollinate. In order to grow and cultivate the flowers, the plant’s environment needs to be kept at a constant 82 degrees Fahrenheit — though it seemed hotter in there Wednesday than that — and a humidity level between 80 and 90 percent. (Today in Boston, it’s only 65 or 70 percent.)

One of the other four corpse flowers, Fester, bloomed earlier this month but it happened too suddenly for the zoo to promote it. So while people were gaping at Morticia, Fester sat in a brown, slumped heap in a nearby pot.

Roughly 24 hours after it started to bloom, Morticia’s petals had withered to the sides, similar to an ear of corn that was half-shucked. In its prime, the petals spanned more than 3 feet wide.

The zoo said that if visitors missed the chance to see Morticia in her prime, there’s no need to fret because it hopes the next largest corpse flower, Pugsley, will bloom within the next year or two.

Bet you can’t wait.

Alli Knothe can be reached at