Imagine the tragedy of there existing a commercial enterprise that panders to my special needs.
In the third decade of my curiously incomplete life I discovered the Sauromatum gutatum bulb. Producing bizarre stalked leaves, deep green and abundantly speckled with brown liver spots, it happily passes the summer and then dies back in autumn. Dormant during the winter, it quietly awaits the stirrings of winged vermin each spring. The soil's surface abruptly shatters as a frankly phallic nine inch purple spathe turgidly extrudes into reality with remarkable speed. Early one morning, and for only a single day, that spathe unwraps to expose a lasciviously sculpted, obscenely stinking self-warming (90°F!) horror that draws flies from Congressional districts across this great nation. Suddenly, I knew joy!
I later collected members of the genus Stapelia. Tough natives of South African deserts, these little gems - hardly more than three inch high, square-stemmed succulents - unfold brilliantly colored two inch blooms. These are remarkably hairy, intensely reeking of rotted meat blooms that are rapidly and abundantly filled to overflowing with the eggs of dozens, of dozens of dozens, of flies. It is quite a spectacle to behold from behind an airtight window upwind of a brisk spring breeze. I knew happiness.
I knew disaster when I saw it staring up at me from the Park Seed Catalog. The mythic titan of carrion flowers is the Amorphophallus titanum. One mammoth bulb was stolen from South American jungles and smuggled into British Kew Gardens where its flower eventually towered fifteen feet high and made the surrounding 19th century neighborhood uninhabitable for days despite the remarkable English disdain for hygienic surroundings. There before my eyes on the glossy page was its little brother Amorphophallus gigantum, a bulb promised to deliver a three foot "strongly scented" blossom. My palms grew moist, my mouth chafed dry, and my blood insistently hammered through my buzzing head. Would I be too late? Would there be any left for me? I sent for three bulbs, and the price was ruinous. I had a monkeyflower on my back.
(The finest soul-shattering floral grotesqueries are sold by Logee's Tropical Plants.)
Plants are singularly metabolically stolid compared to animals that cavort across the landscape, some with internal body temperatures maintained at vehemently tropical extremes. The telegraph vine twitches at dusk and Venus flytraps suddenly lose turgor to swiftly spasm, but even these plants lack pulsing internal fires. Not so the stink flowers.
Skunk cabbage melts its way though the last persistent remnants of ice each spring by short circuiting its cellular aerobic metabolism. Salicylate decouples the Krebs cycle from adenosine triphosphate persistence. Oxidative phosphorylation goes wild as the chemiosmotic potential across mitochondria continuously consumes itself, and burns. Skunk cabbage sprouts can approach human body temperature, all the better to odorously broadcast their availability through otherwise glacially pure air. Sauromatum gutatum spathes are definitively warm to the touch. An amorous Amorphophallus steams with its perfumed vapors.
Amorphophallus bulbs require years of patient feeding and sun to accumulate the sheer mass necessary to support their copulatory display. So it was that I received my beauties, two inch bulbs each with a greenly peeping stalk already evident, and placed them in two foot high flowerpots gorged with SuperSoil, composted manure, Ironite, and an assortment of vital trace elements chelated by disodium versenate for continued bio-availability. It will be years until they achieve a weight of three to five pounds. I will patiently await their rapturous pleasures.
Something warmly redolent of decaying flesh this way comes. Yes!
In January 2006 Uncle Al obtained from Logee's Tropical Plants in Connecticut a rooted cutting of the vine Aristolochia gigantea 'brasiliensis.' It grew 30 feet up in California sun and put out a dozen 100 in2 flowers colored like cut raw meat. It is pollinated by flies and is not shy about attracting them. Oh unending rapturous joy!