We enjoy flowers because of their colors, shapes and scents, but all those bells and whistles are not intended for us. They’re meant to attract pollinators—usually bees and butterflies, but some plants prefer flies and carrion-eating beetles. To tempt these discerning insects, some flowers emit an odor similar to rotting flesh. There are a number of varieties of stinking flowers, or carrion flowers, as they’re sometimes called. We’ve listed some of the most outlandish.
1. Rafflesia arnoldii
This rare meaty red flower (above) is found in Borneo and Sumatra, growing parasitically on the roots of a vine found in the rainforest. It’s enormous, measuring up to three feet across. The buds take several months to develop into flowers, and the flowers last only a few days. They are one of several varieties of Rafflesia, all pollinated by flies.
These small understory trees are native to eastern North America. The fruits have been compared to mangos in texture and to bananas in flavor, but they don’t ship or store well so they aren’t often sold in stores. They’re pollinated by flies and beetles, and the large flowers are droopy and purply-red. Like flesh.
3. Stapelia gigantea
This African succulent produces hairy star-shaped flowers that are an attractive yellow color shot with red veins—and smell like rotting flesh. Sometimes called a toad plant, this and other varieties of stapelia are grown as houseplants around the world.
4. Mexican Calabash or Jicaro
This Central American tree produces putrid trumpet flowers that form on the branches and trunk. The fruit, hard and gourd-like, has edible seeds. The hard shell is sometimes used to make jewelry and bowls.
5. Amorphophallus titanum
The name of this plant means “giant misshapen phallus” in Greek. It’s found in the rainforests of Sumatra, along with the Rafflesia. The flowers can be up to 10 feet tall, and are pollinated by both beetles and flies.
This climbing vine has heart-shaped leaves and poisonous tubular flowers. It’s found in Europe, and was used medicinally for pregnant women until it was discovered that the plant causes kidney failure.
7. Western skunk cabbage
This odiferous plant, named for its skunky aroma, is found along streambanks in the Pacific Northwest, ranging as far north as Alaska and as far south as Santa Cruz. The flowers look a little like bright yellow calla lilies.
8. Stinkhorn mushrooms
This family of mushrooms smells like rotting flesh and poop, which gets flies all excited. The flies help spread spores so the mushrooms can reproduce.
9. Stink Lily
The Dracunculus vulgaris, also known as the stink lily, comes from Greece and the surrounding area. The flowers are dark purple and smell like meat. It’s grown as an ornamental plant in North America.
10. Dead horse arum lily
This plant from the Mediterranean is pollinated by blowflies—you know, the ones that lay their eggs in cadavers and help forensics experts determine the time of death? The beefsteak-colored flowers also generate heat, further tricking flies into thinking they’re landing on delicious decomposing meat.