Penis flower fans storm Netherlands

Rare plant draws large crowds to see the phallus-shaped bloom.

Published August 8, 2000 7:15PM (EDT)

After more than a decade of anticipation, horticulture fans stormed a Dutch greenhouse this week to catch a glimpse of the "penis plant," the world's largest and smelliest flower.

Originally from Sumatra, the Amorphophallus titanum features a prominent phallus-like pod that can grow up to 12 feet tall. It can take several years to flower in captivity, but whenever it does, the bloom attracts penis flower fans from all over the world. Time is of the essence. The bloom usually lasts less than one day, and then, just like a human penis, the pod quickly shrivels up.

Visitors crowded into the greenhouse of the University of Leiden for a peek at the rare blossom, which gives off a pungent stench of rotting fish and putrid meat. Humans will wrinkle their noses, but in the wilds of Indonesia, carrion beetles are drawn to the odors, and inadvertently help perform the plant's pollination.

Also known as the corpse flower, the Amorphophallus titanum was unknown to the world until a cultivated flower bloomed in England in 1889. Governesses of the Victorian era would protect young women from the indecent sight of a stinky, trembling phallus that stretched taller than a man. Any instance of flowering anywhere on the globe gives cause for celebration. After two blooms occurred in New York within two years, the flower was designated the official flower of the Bronx. A bloom in Java in 1970 once attracted 34,000 viewers.

"We're overjoyed the plant has flowered," said Art Vogel, the manager of the university greenhouse. "This is one of the 10 rarest species in the world, and fires in Sumatra are threatening its existence."

By Jack Boulware

Jack Boulware is a writer in San Francisco and author of "San Francisco Bizarro" and "Sex American Style."

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