You'd hardly expect the stench of rotting flesh to be a drawcard, but in the case of Amorphophallus titanum – a colossal lily from the rainforests of Sumatra that produces a profoundly putrid stink when it flowers – the pong is part of the appeal. A rare sight on Southern African soil, a titan arum at the Stellenbosch University Botanical Garden has just begun to unfurl its fetid spathe (the curly leafy bit supporting the flower cluster) to reveal a deep reddish purple hue and fleshy texture reminiscent of meat.

It's kind of a big deal if you're a keen botanist. Titan arums, also known as corpse flowers (not to be confused with parasitic plants in the Rafflesia genus that have also earned this grisly common name) are among the world's largest flowers and can reach three metres tall. They do not flower often and it can take up to ten years for a young plant to grow big enough to unleash its stink on the world.

Flowering usually only lasts two to three days and the smell is at its most intense in the early stages of blooming (particularly after the sun goes down). The pungent bouquet is part of an elaborate rouse. The plant puts on its best impression of a rotting carcass – complete with meat-like fleshiness – in order to attract carrion-eating beetles and flesh flies that will pollinate the flower.

The fleshy pink interior of the corpse flower. Image © Stellenbosch University Botanical Garden

In addition to its famous funkiness, the titan arum also has a Latin name that loosely translates to “huge deformed penis” in reference to the somewhat phallic spadix (the vertical part that looks a bit like something Jeff Bezos would send into space). During flowering, the spadix can reach temperatures similar to the human body, helping to enhance its malodorous lure.

And if you're struggling to imagine the meaty miasma, it's a cocktail of smelly cheese (dimethyl trisulfide), rotting fish (trimethylamine), sweaty socks (isovaleric acid), mothballs (indole), sweet tar (phenol) and garlic (Dimethyl disulfide), with a fragrant floral scent (benzyl alcohol) to top it all off.

The Stellenbosch University Botanical Garden (and hopefully its greenhouse windows) will be open from 8am-8pm for those hoping to catch a glimpse and a whiff of this stinky character in all its glory. Follow them on Instagram for more.

Header image: Mike Ball/Flickr