CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – An overwhelming odor is coming to Clarksville.

The biology department at Austin Peay State University said it expects one of the school’s corpse flowers, lovingly nicknamed Zeus, to bloom in the next week or two, unleashing its powerful perfume on the campus greenhouse where it resides.

Amorphophallus titanum, otherwise known as the corpse flower, is a plant native to Sumatra, Indonesia. Only about 1,000 plants remain in the wild, where they can grow up to 15 feet tall.

Zeus Corpse Flower
Zeus Corpse Flower (Courtesy: Austin Peay State University)

Zeus came to Austin Peay as a gift from Vanderbilt University. Jonathan Ertelt, the former greenhouse manager at Vanderbilt, gifted the plant to the university in 2018.

Unlike most flowers, the titan arum is known for its stink, which appears when the plant blooms. Luckily, the plant only blooms once every eight to 10 years and only for 24-36 hours, according to Austin Peay biology professor Dr. Carol Baskauf.

“We’re used to flowers with sweet smells that attract bees and butterflies,” she said. “The nickname for this plant is ‘corpse flower’ because it smells like rotting, dead meat. It stinks terribly.”

According to a 2010 scientific study, the corpse flower smells like a combination of cheese, sweat, garlic, decomposing meat, feces and rotting fish, prompting the common nickname. Because of the odor, the flower does not attract the usual pollinators, such as bees or butterflies. Rather, the stench attracts flies and carrion beetles, which are also pollinators.

Because of their scarcity, corpse flower blooms hold special significance for biologists and researchers. While the blooms have become more common in cultivation, they are still extremely rare. As of 2019, only about 500 corpse flower plants lived in university or private collections or botanical gardens.

When Zeus was gifted to Austin Peay, Ertelt and other experts were not sure if it would bloom.

“Even when the flower spike is very close to full size and ready to open, it can be hard to say until one sees the spathe leaf starting to unfurl in a particular way that the entire inflorescence is definitely starting to open,” Ertelt said in 2018.

He guessed at that time the plant was four or five years away from flowering, a prediction which has so far appeared to blossom well.

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Visitors can see Zeus in action from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday inside the Austin Peay Sundquist Science Complex greenhouse. Those who cannot make it to Clarksville can also view the livestream of Zeus’s growth any time online at the Biology Department’s titan arum webpage.