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"Corpse flower" blooming at U.S. Botanic Garden

The rare titan arum is in full bloom at the U.S. Botanic Garden. The tight flower started unfurling on the evening of Sunday, July 21, and is expected to last about 24 hours.
US Botanic Garden

The giant "corpse flower" at the U.S. Botanic Garden is in full bloom. The massive flower takes its name from the odor it emits at peak bloom: when the spathe (the part that looks like a flower) unfurls, it smells as lovely as a rotting corpse.

"The flower started generating the odor last night around six o'clock," a garden spokesman told CBSNews.com, "It was quite powerful, it took about an hour and a half for it to fill the room it was in, and it started curling back down on us and got a little disgusting by 7:30. Another employee came in at around 9:00 and said it was terrible."

While the smell is repugnant to humans, it holds a biological purpose, attracting pollinators such as beetles. The bloom is expected to last 24 to 48 hours before quickly collapsing, but the smell will only be around for the first six to 12 hours. The flower doubled in size over the past week, peaking at about 8-feet tall.

Native to the tropical rainforests of Indonesia, the flower was discovered in 1878. Even the best gardeners have a hard time predicting the flower's bloom, as the cycle can range from years to decades. It generally blooms in summer months because it requires high humidity and round-the-clock warm temperatures. Prior to blooming, it features a thick green base supporting the pointed top, almost like a massive ear of corn before it is shucked. According to the garden's website, the flower has the "largest known unbranched inflorescence in the plant kingdom."

The garden has 14 titan arums, but this is the first to bloom since 2007. When a titan arum bloomed at the National Botanic Garden of Belgium earlier this month, traffic increased 10-fold as more than 5,000 people flocked to see -- and smell -- the rare bloom.

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    Danielle Elliot is a freelance science editor and reporter for CBS News. She holds an M.A. in science and health journalism from Columbia University and a B.A. in broadcast journalism from the University of Maryland. Follow her on Twitter - @daniellelliot.