The titan arum is special for two reasons. First, it's considered the largest unbranched flower on earth. Second, it smells terrible.
According to the U.S. Botanic Garden, the corpse-like smell attracts pollinating insects:
"The odor is often compared to the stench of rotting flesh. The inflorescence also generates heat, which allows the stench to travel further. This combination of heat and smell efficiently attracts pollinators, such as dung and carrion beetles, from across long distances."
The tropical flower doesn't have a predictable blooming cycle, which is why the announcement that a titan arum is about to bloom at the U.S. Botanic Garden is drawing many visitors and much media attention.
"It’s the Botanic Garden’s panda,” Elliott Norman told the The Washington Post. Norman is the gardener who's been nurturing this titan arum since 2005. Like the panda cam at the San Diego Zoo, there is a live stream for flower. The bloom is expected to last just one or two days before beginning to decay.
Live streams are an increasingly popular way to bring a real-time experience of nature home. Last year, internet users could watch baby eagles hatch, a baby polar bear play and endangered cranes nest. Although the giant flower may not have the cute factor of these charismatic megafauna, hopefully the botanic garden's live stream will draw some attention to the wonderful diversity of the plant world. But to get the full olfactory experience, nothing can replace a physical visit.