inside the flower

The corpse flower’s impressive bloom attracts many kinds of pollinators with its rancid smell.

Big Stink

Rooted in the rich soil of the rain forest in Sumatra, a rare flower is about to bloom. It has been growing for nine years. The blossom will only open for 48 hours. It needs to be pollinated during that short window.

Shaped like a 3‑meter- (10‑foot-) long baseball bat wearing a tutu, the flower begins to unfurl. The inside of the flower is warm and deep red. But it’s the smell that you notice. It’s a combination of decay, dirty diapers, and rotten pickles. Gross to humans, maybe. But it’s a beacon to insects.

The titan arum plant, also known as the corpse flower, is the smelliest bloom on the planet. Its bad odor advertises a free meal. It’s irresistible to insects that feed on dead things. Insects land on the flower and pollinate it as they wander about looking for food.

The Venus flytraps’ leaves are lined with trigger hairs. Once tripped, an insect is trapped.

The Need for Speed

A flash of red catches a fly’s attention. A sweet smell suggests food. The fly lands on the sticky, red surface. This landing pad is actually the inside of a hinged leaf.

Before the fly has a chance to fly off, the leaf snaps shut like a mouth. It takes less than a second to close. The edges of the leaf are rimmed with spikes. They act like a fence to keep the fly in place. The fly struggles, but it’s no use. It has been caught by a Venus flytrap, and it’s on its way to being eaten by this plant.

Like many plants, a Venus flytrap gathers nutrients from the soil and from the air. Yet, Venus flytraps live in poor soil and can’t get all of the nutrients they need. So, they’ve adapted an extreme way to feed themselves. They eat live prey.

The plant’s leaves are hinged in the middle like a clamshell. The inside is covered with stiff hairs. These are trigger hairs. They act like motion sensors. When an insect moves across the leaf, it brushes against trigger hairs. When one hair is brushed, nothing happens. But when a second hair is triggered, the leaf snaps shut and traps the insect inside.

Once inside, chemicals in the plant break down the soft parts of the insect. After nutrients are absorbed, the hinged leaf opens, and the unwanted remains fall out. The leaf is ready to capture its next meal. The whole process takes between five and 12 days.