A Guide to Carrion Flowers

When people think of flowers they often imagine sweet smelling, colorful plants but not all flowers have such a pleasant fragrance. Carrion flowers include several different species and while some may be pretty, they emit the stench of rotting flesh. Carrion flowers attract fecal and flesh eating insects. The flowers belong to a number of different plant families and include some of the strangest and biggest flowers found on Earth.

Why Do Carrion Flowers Smell So Bad?

The word carrion refers to the rotting flesh of dead animals and carrion insects feed on such rotting flesh, as well as feces and other decaying matter. These insects also lay their eggs in foul smelling, damp places. Carrion flowers deceive carrion insects and lure them into their blossoms where the flowers become pollinated. The insects and any maggots that hatch from eggs wind up dying due to a lack of food. Typically flowers that are pollinated by insects reward their pollinators with nectar but this is not the case with carrion flowers. The overpowering smell that is emitted from carrion flowers is normally caused by putrescine and cadaverine which are simple amine compounds. The same compounds are also produced during the decomposition of rotting protein.

Types of Carrion Flowers

There are many different species of carrion flowers but some of the more well known species include starfish flowers, arums, and the stinking corpse lily.

  • African Starfish Flowers - African starfish flowers are some of the most notorious carrion flowers and belong to the milkweed family. There are several different genera of starfish flowers including Huernia, Caralluma, and Stapelia. These flowers are starfish shaped and have hairy spines. Other types of Africans starfish flowers include S. gigantea, climbing milkweed, and zebra flowers. Many of the different types of starfish flowers can be found in areas of South Africa in particular.
  • The Arum Family - The arum are a large tropical family of flowers including several different genera. Different arum species can be found throughout the world and include skunk cabbage, dragon arum, corn lilies, and garden callas. The arums are known for emitting unpleasant odors of fresh feces and carrion. The largest and stinkiest member of the arum family is the titan arum, commonly known as the corpse flower. Titan arum is native to the tropical rain forests of Indonesia and Sumatra. The flower can grow to over eight feet tall and twelve feet in circumference. The enormous corpse flower emits such an overwhelming stench that it has been said to have caused people to pass out just from smelling it.
  • The Stinking Corpse Lily - The stinking corpse lily (Rafflesia) is a member of the Rafflesiaceae family, which includes a number of different parasitic flowering plants. The stinking corpse lily is the largest individual flower in the world and has no leaves or stems. The flower grows on a host vine in the rain forests of Borneo and Sumatra. When fully blossomed, the stinking corpse flower has a diameter of up to three feet and can weigh up to twenty five pounds. The huge flower is red with raised white spots and emits the odor of a rotting corpse. The flower is very rare and endangered and is one of the most unusual plants in the world.

Carrion flowers are some of the most fascinating plant species in the world. While these insect luring flowers should probably not be included in a bouquet, they are interesting nonetheless. From titan arum to rafflesia, scientists continue to seek more information on carrion flowers and their role in nature. Visit the pages listed below to learn more about carrion flowers.

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