Named after their trademark scent of rotting flesh, there are different types of carrion flowers. Depending on the genus and species, carrion flowers also have other characteristics associated with death and decay. But what might the different types of carrion flowers be, and why exactly are there plants in the world that smell like death?
In this article, we will address all of the different types of carrion flowers and their purposes. We will go over what they smell like as well as why they smell, and we’ll even include a list of some of the most common plants that are classified as carrion flowers. Let’s get started now!
What are Carrion Flowers?
Botanically classified as a wide range of different species, carrion flowers are capable of mimicking the smell of rotting flesh or decay. Depending on the plant, the scent it carries can vary from rotten eggs to a distinctly human scent of death. The appearance of carrion flowers varies as well, but their appearances are even more haunting than their smells.
While most flowers carry with them pleasantness and a sense of peace, carrion flowers both look and smell like rotting flesh more often than not. These plants come in a variety of colors that closely resemble fresh kills or decaying carcasses, making them offputting to even the most intrigued individual! They are also known as corpse flowers or corpse plants for this reason.
But this still doesn’t answer the question of why these plants need to smell so, so bad.
Why Do Carrion Flowers Smell Bad?
The reason that most carrion flowers smell bad is simple: they are pollinated by flies and other insects that are attracted to the smell of decay. This helps maintain the survival of the plant species, especially in cases where these particular flowers are rare or endangered. In addition to attracting pollinators, corpse flowers typically smell bad enough to deter the average grazing animal that might otherwise feed on them! This is just another way that these unique and eerie plants ensure their survival.
What Insects Pollinate Carrion Flowers?
A large number of insects help carrion flowers in their delicate process of pollination. Depending on the location of these plants, some are pollinated by a number of insects while others manage to reproduce in simpler ways! Some of the most common insects that pollinate carrion flowers include:
- Flesh flies
- Dung beetles
- Carrion beetles
- Other fly species
- Some carnivorous insects, depending on the region
Types of Carrion Flowers
Now that you know what carrion flowers are and why they smell the way that they do, here are some of the types of carrion plants that exist around the world.
While not all flowers found within the Amorphophallus genus stink, there are a great number of them that do. In fact, the plant with the largest unbranched flower cluster in the world is a corpse plant, known as the titan arum. This carrion flower is capable of heating up its spadix to attract insects, pumping out its smelly odor in a rhythmic, purposeful way.
Also known as starfish flowers, the Stapelia genus hosts roughly 50-60 different plants that have a peculiar odor. While some are stinkier than others, starfish flowers are commonly kept as houseplants or used in landscaping projects in areas that support their growth. Native to South Africa, the majority of starfish flowers are hairy and without stems, some flowers reaching a foot and a half in diameter!
Similar to starfish flowers, the plants found in the Rafflesia genus are often stemless and extremely large. Known as the stinking corpse lily, Rafflesia arnoldii is the largest single flower in the world and it produces a notorious stench from its nearly 4-foot circumference. Other members of this genus do not have roots or leaves as well, living a parasitic life in Asian forests. Most of these flowers cannot pollinate one another without help from insects, which is why they are well-known for their odor.
While they aren’t exactly flowers, the stinkhorn fungi family needs to be included in this list. Classified as Phallaceae, these fungi are notorious not only for their scent but for their remarkably phallic appearance. You may have even seen a stinkhorn mushroom in your own yard, as multiple stinkhorn species occur around the world, particularly in North America and Europe.
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- Carrion odor and cattle grazing, Available here: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.4161/cib.26111