Why Do Carrion Flowers Smell Like Rotting Meat and How Did They Get Their Name?

One man’s meat is another man’s poison, as the old saying goes, and some flowers put this theory to the test.

Carrion flowers, also known as stinking flowers, is the name given to several different species of plants, usually members of the lily family, that all use the same process for pollination, a gross, stinky smell that is similar to rotting flesh.

The word Carrion refers to the carcass of a dead animal, thus the name.

Flies and carrion beetles are attracted to the smell and get caught inside the flowers long enough to get coated with pollen, escape and, with any luck, go and pollinate another carrion flower.

In 1993 David Attenborough, filming the BBC series The Secret Life of Plants, trudged into the depths of Indonesia’s jungles to gather seeds from the endangered corpse plant, a foul-smelling flowering plant indigenous to Sumatra.

The seeds were distributed to various universities and botanists, and in the summer of 2001 many of these plants flowered for the first time, causing a ripple of excitement through many botanists’ hearts.

The smell emitted for the 48 to 72 hours that the blooms remain open has been likened to cabbage soup, an overly hot greenhouse, manure, and of course, a rotting corpse. Ironically, the Indonesians use them as an aphrodisiac.

They’re symbols of love, beauty, and tranquillity. Plants are the source of medicinal and spiritual healing. They’re also the cause of scratches, hives, and sometimes painful death.

What evil lurks in the hearts of plants? Step into the dark side of the forest and we’ll show you.

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