A corpse flower grows in Brooklyn

Mary
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Hold your nose! Our favorite rare and giant plant, the corpse flower or Amorphophallus titanum, could burst forth and stink up the air as early as today at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. A botanist once likened its fragrance to "a cross between ammonia fumes and hydrogen sulphide, suggestive of spoiled meat or rotting fish."

The flower was first discovered in Sumatra, its native terrain, in 1878 by Odoardo Beccari. It was an immediate sensation. An English artist assigned to illustrate the plant is said to have become ill from the odor, and governesses forbade young women from gazing upon its indelicate form. (Its formal name ends in "phallus" for good reason.)

You can watch an almost-live webcam of the plant threatening to flower here. (Thank goodness Smell-O-Vision didn't work out.) After the jump, an introduction to our other favorite bizarre plant, from our fact library.

Venus Fly Trap The Venus flytrap plant seems like it should be native to the rain forest or some other exotic location — but that's not the case. In fact, they are only found on the coastal plains of North and South Carolina.

Popular misconceptions about the Venus flytrap abound. Here are just a few:

* The plant can actively attack.

* The "trap" is a mouth that the plant uses to eat.

* The plant can keep a home clear of flies.

Here's the truth:

* Venus flytraps only capture prey small enough for them to catch, and certainly do not have the strength to harm any creature larger than a small insect. The traps only spring shut when tiny hairs on their insides are triggered; they do not freely move to "seek" prey.

* The "trap" part of the plant is in fact one of its leaves. Although it does distribute digestive juices to absorb nutrients from the prey it captures, it has no true mouth. After the trap has "sprung" four or five times, it wilts away and is soon replaced by a new leaf-trap.

* After being triggered falsely, it usually takes a full day for a trap to re-open. It can take a trap several days to digest an insect, which means that it's unlikely that it can do enough pest control in the average home to make a noticeable dent.

In the wild, the plant has become rare and anyone caught removing these plants from their natural habitat can be subject to heavy fines. Any Venus flytrap plants offered for sale should be grown privately in greenhouses or nurseries.

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August 11, 2006 - 3:53am
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