|Here it is, in not quite all its glory.|
"When are we going to visit the corpse flower?" Ben asked yesterday morning. There's been considerable publicity this week around a special plant at the US Botanical Garden. Titum Arum, otherwise known as the 'corpse flower', has come into bloom for the first time in years. This is a mixed blessing since the flower is known for a sickening fragrance reminiscent of rotting flesh. The stench is said to become more intense at night and early morning. But the day before yesterday it should have been at its prime.
We had theatre tickets in DC that evening, so we decided to stop at the Botanical Garden before the show.
Washington was hot and sunny. Several soccer teams practiced on the Mall on the newly laid and well-drained grass. But we walked on by, up towards the Capitol, expecting to find a line for the corpse flower, because the Botanical Museum has reported ten times the number of visitors over the last week. Oddly, the coast was clear. So, disregarding beautiful displays in the flowerbeds out front, we headed straight into the Conservatory to confront the stinky monster.
We found the plant immediately. It was roped off like the Mona Lisa - and a crowd had gathered round. People were posing before it and taking pictures. It was straight out of Little Shop of Horrors. An enormous pale green stamen, about four feet high, speared forth from a ruffled maroon petticoat. But sadly those petals were closed. Thus there was no smell.
Disappointed? I was. I had read that the stench was so overpowering as to sicken those who smelled it. It was like roadkill, we read in the newspaper. Now I wouldn't smell that.
But we had to sample something this terrible. We couldn't just take their word for it! We wanted a whiff firsthand. Human weakness dictated that we must satisfy our morbid curiosity. We longed for it and also we dreaded it. We had hurried there to smell it for ourselves. Now we found nothing but a big old flower. No ghastly smell. In fact, no smell at all.
Remember in childhood - when somebody, usually a boy, would force you to smell something stinky? They would thrust a bottle of something underneath your nose and you'd scream and pull away but yet you'd feel like there was a challenge here and you had to take a whiff just to see if you could stand it? Not that you were better for being able to stand it. But something in you was looking to broaden your repertoire, good and bad. Experiencing the bad would make you appear a fuller, more reckless person. Recklessness was an indication of breadth. Well, that's what it was like. And then, because we couldn't smell anything at all, it was the exact opposite. It was like rubbernecking after the crash has been cleared away.
We headed back to the car. Ben told me that for hours after smelling the Titum Arum, someone had reported they couldn't face even the idea of food. "Well, at least we won't be sick during the show," I said. "True," he said. "But now you won't be able to write about it!"
Once again we passed the soccer players on the mall, now backlit by a setting sun - with the Washington Monument behind them. Before continuing on to the theatre, Ben pulled over to take this shot.