Ralph Waldo Emerson’s long “Hamatreya” isn’t his best known poem, but four of the words within it are very well known and often quoted: “Earth laughs in flowers.” It was one of my mother’s favorite phrases. Before her dementia, gardening was her much-loved early morning activity, and flowers were a joy to her.
It wouldn’t be Mom’s dementia, or the long drive between Kansas and Colorado, that would prevent me from taking her to the Denver Botanical Gardens this week. It would be the smell. And the long lines, with waits as long as five hours to get in.
The Amorphophallus titanum was in bloom for less than forty-eight hours, and it will be another 7-10 years before the “corpse flower” blooms again. The plant earned this nickname for a reason, and at the entrance to the Botanical Gardens, barf bags were available for the visitors. To give you a general idea, I’ll share two popular descriptions of the smell of the “corpse flower”: 1) a combination of limburger cheese, rotting fish, sweaty socks, and mothballs; and 2) the carcass of a chicken in a trash bag inside a metal trash can, left outside for a few days.
I think it’s safe to say that the Amorphophallus titanum isn’t on the top ten list of most popular flowers for wedding bouquets and Mother’s Day corsages.
Maybe Edna St. Vincent Millay had “corpse flower” in mind when she wrote these lines: “I will be the gladdest thing under the sun! I will touch a hundred flowers and not pick one.” Or maybe touching the “corpse flower” wouldn’t be a good idea either.
Flowers—like art, movies, books, politics and religion, etc.—are open to interpretation and valuable for personal reasons. The typical appeal of most flowers is usually the beauty, colors, scents and symbolism. But maybe the infrequency of the bloom of the “corpse flower” and the short life of the blossoms are popular considerations. Or maybe the novelty of the startling, staggering smell is also a draw. Mom always said that every thing God created has a purpose and fits somehow into the scheme of things, even if we don’t quite understand what it is.
I think she’s right. I just don’t know about the purpose of the “corpse flower,” except maybe as the prompt for writing a horror story. It does seem to be a possible flower of choice for zombies, tied with a wire and presented in a barf bag. But I’m certainly open to other possibilities.
45 responses to “Rotting Fish and Sweaty Socks”
First of all, it’s quite a coup for your photos to be featured on Fox News – Wow, Marylin!
I am familiar with the Emerson quote, but not that particular one by Edna St. Vincent Millay, and I certainly didn’t know about the corpse flower until now. Did you use the barf bag?
Love of flowers runs strong on both sides of our family tree. The Longenecker women for years attended the Philadelphia Flower Show, in March, touted as the world’s largest indoor exhibit.
Think I stick with fragrance and skip the stink though.
Oh, I wish, Marian, but let me set the record straight. I didn’t take the pictures. They were taken by Fox21 news photographers and posted on Fox 21–I was giving them credit! 🙂
There are several “stinky” types of plants, Marian, but I think the “corpse flower” is at the top of the list. At county fairs I always went straight away to the flower competitions, and my mother taught me how to plant bulbs, flowering bushes and perennials around the house and throughout the gardens so that every season we had something blooming. In winter we had blue holly with berries that we picked and brought inside.
Got it, Marylin. Hasty reading! ;-/
I have never heard of this flower and don´t think I would go out of my way to view it. As my dear father always said, “You should learn something new everyday.” Thanks for filling my quota for today!
The “corpse flower” really drew in the crowds, Darlene. The more research I’ve done since then, the more I’m amazed by the details. I learned something new for several days because of this! 😉
I found this fascinating Marylin. I’ve never known there was such a flower. Quite amazing, Marylin. You would think that if you bloomed only every 7 to 10 years you would release an aroma so good it would bowl people over. But then it does precisely that. 🙂 Incredible! By the way I think that quote, “Earth laughs in flowers,” is wonderful. Fascinating post.
Thanks, Don. I was fascinated by the incredible “corpse flower” and the huge response to its short blooming period, so I’m glad you enjoyed it.
“The earth laughs in flowers” … how beautiful.
The rest of this poem by Emerson didn’t inspire me, but I’ve always loved that short line–it reminds me of my mother’s flowers and how she loved them.
For some reason, this plant reminds me of a Venus flytrap. I’ve never heard of a corpse flower. How interesting. I share your mother’s love of flowers Marylin. 🙂
From what I know of the Venus Flytrap, Joanne, it doesn’t have the incredible stench of the “Corpse Flower,” which, as it turns out, does attract certain insects. LIke you, I share my mother’s love of flowers, but her choices were delicate, hearty, colorful…and sweet. 😉
I don’t think I would care to smell this one either. Interesting and amazing its life cycle though. Guess there is a time for everything, even a big stink, ha.
Now THAT would make a great title for an article or short story, Claudia:
“A Time For Everything, Even a Big Stink.” 😉 Or a child’s book for potty training!
I love “The Earth Laughs” picture, Marylin. It is the perfect conclusion to your presentation of the “corpse flower.” It is like Mother Earth is saying, “Ha-ha, humankind, got you with this one. Just when you thought all my blooms were fragrant and beautiful! I’m full of surprises.” Well, the fragrance of blooms is nature’s way of attracting little critters to spread the pollen of new life. What kind of critter does the corpse-flower attract? Skunks? 🙂
You always ask just the right questions to get me going or keep me researching, honey. Okay, so I did more research, and yes, the “corpse flower” has at least one purpose in the scheme of things. In the wild, the scent of rotting meat (which is one of the scents of the flower) attracts carrion-eating beetles and flesh flies.
So it is definitely more real than as a bouquet for zombies! 😉
Marylin … What a lovely phrase, “the Earth laughs in flowers.” It might be chuckling quite heartily at those who would flock to see – and smell – a flower whose odor is so repugnant that barf bags might be supplied to visitors.
From the website, http://www.livescience.com/51923-denver-stinky-corpse-flower-blooms.html: TheCorpse-flower’s smell is to draw in insects. Then, it closes to prevent the insects from flying back out.
Is it related to the Venus flytrap?
I didn’t find anything about a relation to the Venus flytrap, Judy, but in the wild it attracts carrion-eating beetles and flesh flies. Jim asked the question, and now you and I have found more information. But, still, bottom line is that although I might look forward and wait 7-10 years for something, but seeing the “corpse flower” blossom again isn’t one of them. 😉
I think I would need a barf bag. But otherwise I do appreciate the magic of flowers. It’s no wonder we associate them with fairies.
The “Corpse Flower” leans more toward drawing zombies than fairies, I think, Julia. But I could be wrong. 🙂
Julia, I just read your post about using Bull Riding to settle international arguments, and now I offer another possibility. The representatives from the warring countries would have to see who could last longest standing next to the “Corpse Flower”–or take a bite. But to do this, I don’t think they could draft a citizen to do it. The leader of the country, dressed in suit and tie, would have to do it. The cost of power…
Fun, intriguing post Mom. I had been interested in the flower after seeing constant updates on Facebook! However, not once did I have any inclination to drive home to see it. According to the reports I read, there was so much breeze and with the ventilation system the smell was very light. But, if you went around the back of the building where it was housed, they had a sign saying “smell here” where the ventilation system had its exhaust area. Now that’s just weird….sticking your face up close to purposefully smell those things, while not even seeing the flower!
I agree, I don’t think grandma would have been up for that trip.
Great job, Mom.
I know…why would you go to the exhaust area for a double dose? Sounds to me like that’s only people who’ve never changed an overdue diaper on a baby that got sick from eating chili or something… 😉
We both agree that Grandma would not have been up for the trip to see the “Corpse Flower,” not even before the dementia.
Hmm…what would Grace and Gannon thought about the “Corpse Flower”?
Ugh! That’s gross! I’d never heard of this – good job it only appears once in a while. I guess it’s of interest to botanists😀
Actually, I did some research, and the plant is in the food chain, but I’m still not convinced it’s a necessary part of the chain, Jenny! Can you imagine being a graduate student in a botany program and learning this would be your project? 😉
A bit like Mosquitos – I can never see the point of them but have been assured they are a necessary link in the chain!
I think I might change courses if I discovered that was to be my thesis😀
I love your logic about the “Corpse Flower”–that it’s like mosquitos–and you don’t see the point of them but they surely are a necessary link in the chair. 🙂 Supposedly, they do draw carrion-feeding insects, and that would be a link in the chain. I guess.
And I’d be right with you, changing courses if we had to make these flowers part of our thesis!
Yikes! I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that anyone would stand in line to subject their senses to an assault, but I am surprised.
We spent the morning (this morning) at the Green Animals Topiary Gardens. THAT, is the kind of Garden you and your mother would love. I’ll eventually get around to posting some pictures on Facebook.
As always, I enjoyed reading your post.
Thanks, Tracy. You’re right; THAT is the kind of garden we would love. I’ll watch for your Facebook pictures.
I think I’ll stick to roses thank you Marylin. I’m reading so many gardening books but I suspect your mom could have taught me a lot about flowers. But I’ll still take a rain check on the corpse flower 😱
And my mom would be right with you, Andrew, taking a rain check (or asking for a face mask) with the corpse flower. But your garden “pond” is turning out so well, and my mom would applaud that! 🙂
Interesting piece, thanks – never heard of this flower before! Well done you, keep strong. My mother had Alzheimer’s and I can still cry sometimes (also laugh, now, not then) at some of what went on. She would have laughed too. So, also wishing you some feeling that at some point, you will laugh at certain memories as well.
That’s one of the best things about writing this blog. It started out telling the stories I wish my mother could remember but can’t because of her dementia, so I wanted to tell them for her great-grandchildren. Along the way, many of my memories have reminded me of the funny, smart, and sweet things I might have forgotten.
Great stuff. Keep going. I wrote a lot of poems during that period, to help me through. So much emotion and desperate for a way to work through it. Writing really helps, so sad to read you have already been there before with your father. It is a devastating disease, cannot say otherwise but with your blog you are creating a new world of memories, to stack against the loss. Stay strong.
Thank you, and you do the same. 🙂
I love that image of the earth laughing in flowers, it’s laughing a lot here at the moment. The corpse flower must be a sight to see (and to smell!), though I’m sure it does have its purpose!
It’s laughing a lot here, too, Andrea, and we’re loving it. Our flowers, plants, vegetable garden and blueberry bush are in full, wonderful bloom. And not a one of them comes even close to smelling like the “corpse flower”–and that’s great! 😉
Fascinating! I guess I’ve never seen a “Corpse Flower”. Perhaps I don’t want to…if they smell anything like my boys’ socks or lacrosse bags I wouldn’t want to be any where near! I do love the quote “The Earth Laughs In Flowers”. Such a happy thought! Enjoy the week! XO
With your photography talents, Robyn, I’d be curious to see how you would have handled the “Corpse Flower.” The Fox21 news photographers either used zoom lenses or wore face masks. 🙂
You always add a special beauty to the flowers you photograph, so I’d love to see what you would do with this! Enjoy your week NOT taking pictures of the “Corpse Flower.”
Ooooh…I could not bare that smell and would definitely need a barf bag! Oh Marylin, I do love your posts for all your fascinating information and tidbits that are so unusual. I do wonder what the purpose of this Corpse Flower is? Haha…as you say, definitely not for weddings 😮 Perhaps it really is a lure for zombies, which is good to know, should a zombie outbreak ever occur. Which reminds me, when is Walking Dead back on here I wonder (big fan!!). Great post as always, and thank you again my friend for your lovely comment over on my blog. I’ll keep in touch with you and hopefully won’t be away too long. I don’t want to miss any of your posts! Hugs Marylin 🙂
Bless you, sweet Sherri, and I wish you joy and rest–and continued creativity–while you take a break. Enjoy this month’s b-day celebrations with your daughter and your father!
Thank you so much dear Marylin, I’ll be in touch 🙂
I can just imagine that smell and I am not sure I would want to see this flower. My grandfather and I used to go to garden shows and I loved it .
I think of your delightful recipes–some with flowers in the food or on the side of the plate, Gerlinde–and I absolutely do not think you would want to see or smell this flower! 🙂
My mom and I used to go to garden shows, too.
Wow, I can smell this flower based on your description, Marylin.