Thousands Watch as Giant Flower That Smells Like Death Blooms for First Time in a Decade
The corpse flower, best know for its terrible smell, is blooming in two locations in the U.S. But you might not want to stop and smell this flower.
Photo credit: U.S. Botanic Garden via Wikimedia Commons
Brave soles—or those that don't have a sense of smell—can bare witness to this once-a-decade event at New York Botanical Garden and the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington, DC. The flower only blooms for about 24 to 48 hours. The New York corpse flower is currently in bloom, but Washingtonians are still awaiting their chance to see one of the world's largest and rarest flowers, which is expected to bloom any time between July 28 and 31.
"When it blooms, the corpse flower will release a scent that's been compared to the odor of rotting flesh," Marc Hachadourian, manager of New York Botanical Garden's Nolen Greenhouses, told The Huffington Post. "It's foul and nasty, but the plant does this to attract pollinators that are attracted to dead animals."
Unfortunately, the corpse flower doesn't just smell like rotting flesh. In fact, floriculturist Tim Pollak at the Chicago Botanic Garden, analyzed the flower's stench. It consists of:
- dimethyl trisulfide—also emitted by cooked onions and limburger cheese, known for its pungent smell
- dimethyl disulfide—which has an odor like garlic
- trimethylamine—found in rotting fish or ammonia
- isovaleric acid—which also causes sweaty socks to stink
- phenol—sweet and medicinal, as in Chloraseptic throat spray
- indole—like mothballs
- benzyl alcohol—a sweet floral scent found in jasmine and hyacinth
Jasmine. That's a plus. Pollak said the corpse flower does have a scientific reason behind its terrible smell.
"The smell, color and even temperature of corpse flowers are meant to attract pollinators and help ensure the continuation of the species," he told Live Science.
Embrace The Stink: The NYBG's Corpse Flower Is Here, Beautiful And Smelly https://t.co/PKjvNzn6gy https://t.co/0ysJA8YPoO— Gothamist (@Gothamist)1469797801.0
Dung beetles, flesh flies and other carnivorous insects are the corpse flower's primary pollinators. These insects, which usually eat dead flesh, are attracted by the smell and the dark burgundy color of the flower's petals.
"Corpse flowers are also able to warm up to 98 degrees Fahrenheit (36.7 Celsius) to further fool the insects," Pollak said. "The insects think the flower may be food, fly inside, realize there is nothing to eat, and fly off with pollen on their legs. Once the flower has bloomed and pollination is complete, the flower collapses."
The corpse flower was first discovered in Sumatra in 1878 by Italian botanist Odoardo Beccari. The plant, which grows in the wild only in Asia, is becoming increasingly rare due to deforestation, pollution, farming and other factors that decrease its natural habitat.
#TBT to our 1937 #corpseflower, when "the odor ... came in waves of varying intensity." #nybglibrary #bronxhistory https://t.co/xuk8rqMtKl— NY Botanical Garden (@NY Botanical Garden)1469725299.0
The pungent flower can grow between 10 and 15 feet. Its leaves can be as big as 13 feet wide. The tallest bloom recorded, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, was a corpse flower measuring 10 feet 2.25 inches, blooming on June 18, 2010 at Winnipesaukee Orchids in Gilford, New Hampshire.
If you don't want to endure the stench, New York Botanical Gardens has a live cam of the flower. You can watch others suffer the smell as you sit comfortably at home or work, hopefully smelling something better:
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Natural gas is a versatile fossil fuel that accounts for about a third of U.S. energy use. Although it produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than coal or oil, natural gas is a major contributor to climate change, an urgent global problem. Reducing emissions from the natural gas system is especially challenging because natural gas is used roughly equally for electricity, heating, and industrial applications.
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What RNG Is and Why it Matters<p>Most equipment that uses energy can only use a single kind of fuel, but the fuel might come from different resources. For example, you can't charge your computer with gasoline, but it can run on electricity generated from coal, natural gas or solar power.</p><p>Natural gas is almost pure methane, <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/" target="_blank">currently sourced</a> from raw, fossil natural gas produced from <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/where-our-natural-gas-comes-from.php" target="_blank">deposits deep underground</a>. But methane could come from renewable resources, too.</p><p><span></span>Two main methane sources could be used to make RNG. First is <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/inventory-us-greenhouse-gas-emissions-and-sinks" target="_blank">biogenic methane</a>, produced by bacteria that digest organic materials in manure, landfills and wastewater. Wastewater treatment plants, landfills and dairy farms have captured and used biogenic methane as an energy resource for <a href="http://emilygrubert.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/eia_860_2017_map.html" target="_blank">decades</a>, in a form usually called <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/biomass/landfill-gas-and-biogas.php" target="_blank">biogas</a>.</p><p>Some biogenic methane is generated naturally when organic materials break down without oxygen. Burning it for energy can be beneficial for the climate if doing so prevents methane from escaping to the atmosphere.</p>
Renewable Isn’t Always Sustainable<p>If RNG could be a renewable replacement for fossil natural gas, why not move ahead? Consumers have shown that they are <a href="https://www.nrel.gov/analysis/green-power.html" target="_blank">willing to buy renewable electricity</a>, so we might expect similar enthusiasm for RNG.</p><p>The key issue is that methane isn't just a fuel – it's also a <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/ghg_report/ghg_overview.php" target="_blank">potent greenhouse gas</a> that contributes to climate change. Any methane that is manufactured intentionally, whether from biogenic or other sources, will contribute to climate change if it enters the atmosphere.</p><p>And <a href="http://doi.org/10.1126/science.aar7204" target="_blank">releases</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wasman.2019.07.029" target="_blank">will happen</a>, from newly built production systems and <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-methane-emissions-matter-to-climate-change-5-questions-answered-122684" target="_blank">existing, leaky transportation and user infrastructure</a>. For example, the moment you smell gas before the pilot light on a stove lights the ring? That's methane leakage, and it contributes to climate change.</p><p>To be clear, RNG is almost certainly better for the climate than fossil natural gas because byproducts of burning RNG won't contribute to climate change. But doing somewhat better than existing systems is no longer enough to respond to the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2923" target="_blank">urgency</a> of climate change. The world's <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/" target="_blank">primary international body on climate change</a> suggests we need to decarbonize by 2030 to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.</p>
Scant Climate Benefits<p><a href="https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/ab9335/meta" target="_blank">My recent research</a> suggests that for a system large enough to displace a lot of fossil natural gas, RNG is probably not as good for the climate as <a href="https://investor.southerncompany.com/information-for-investors/latest-news/latest-news-releases/press-release-details/2020/Southern-Company-Gas-grows-leadership-team-to-focus-on-climate-action-innovation-and-renewable-natural-gas-strategy/default.aspx" target="_blank">is publicly claimed</a>. Although RNG has lower climate impact than its fossil counterpart, likely high demand and methane leakage mean that it probably will contribute to climate change. In contrast, renewable sources such as wind and solar energy do not <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/carbon/" target="_blank">emit climate pollution directly</a>.</p><p>What's more, creating a large RNG system would require building mostly new production infrastructure, since RNG comes from different sources than fossil natural gas. Such investments are both long-term commitments and opportunity costs. They would devote money, political will and infrastructure investments to RNG instead of alternatives that could achieve a zero greenhouse gas emission goal.</p><p>When climate change first <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/1988/06/24/us/global-warming-has-begun-expert-tells-senate.html" target="_blank">broke into the political conversation</a> in the late 1980s, investing in long-lived systems with low but non-zero greenhouse gas emissions was still compatible with aggressive climate goals. Now, zero greenhouse gas emissions is the target, and my research suggests that large deployments of RNG likely won't meet that goal.</p>
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