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Foul fascination: Edmonton plant beautiful, but stinks like diapers, dead animals

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EDMONTON - Putrella's bloom by any other name would still smell decidedly unsweet.

Staff at Edmonton's Muttart Conservatory raced to work Monday morning as soon as they learned a giant "corpse flower" had blossomed overnight. Along with a purple-reddish bloom, the plant produces a foul odour.

Sarah Birmingham gagged a little bit when she first opened the door.

"This place reeked, just stunk," said the staff grower. "I guess that's what death smells like. I don't know. I've never smelled a dead guy."

Other employees and some of the hundreds of curious visitors who later stood in line to catch a whiff all had their own take on the stifling stench — dirty diapers, rotting food, dead animals and garbage left out in the hot sun.

The corpse flower, officially named Amorphophallus titanum, is a tropical plant found in the wild in Sumatra, Indonesia, but it's also grown in greenhouses around the world. The plant's putrid odour attracts pollinating insects and, because it can take several years to bloom, also creates a buzz among humans.

Staff believe the Muttart's corpse flower, which they fondly nicknamed Putrella, is the first of its kind to bloom in Western Canada. Another opened last year in Niagara Falls, Ont.

When a bud popped out of Putrella's container earlier this month, workers excitedly advertised that a bloom was coming. About 50,000 followers flocked to the Muttart's Facebook page to track the plant's growth — about 2.5 metres in just a few weeks — and watch for the bloom alert.

Plant people know it's rare to see a corpse flower bloom and, when it does, it doesn't last long. Its petals wither within a few days and its strange scent lasts for only one.

"It's not as bad as we thought," said Mabel Price, who drove for an hour from Westlock, Alta., with her husband and two friends after they heard the plant had bloomed.

She compared the smell to a dead moose or coyote. "We live on a farm. We know dead animals well."

Facharuddin Vachteram is originally from Borneo but has never seen a corpse flower bloom in his home country. He lined up early at the Muttart and came prepared with a surgical mask, although he never thought the smell was bad enough to put it on.

Although the odour faded throughout the day, the lineups of people grew. The Muttart extended its visiting hours until 11 p.m. to give everyone who wanted to see and smell the flower the chance.

Pat Barford stopped at the Muttart on her way out of the city for work. She didn't want to miss it.

"It's not great but it's not vile," she said, comparing the smell to a hard-boiled egg that's been in a fridge for too many days.

She said she was more impressed by the flower's unique shape and enormous size. "It really is spectacular looking. It's not like anything I've ever seen before."

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