The odor of rotting flesh emanating from a single "corpse flower" drew hundreds of new visitors yesterday to Hilo’s Pana‘ewa Rainforest Zoo & Gardens on a typically quiet Easter Sunday.
Namaste, a 13-year-old white tiger, normally gets most of the attention at the zoo. But people lined up yesterday morning before the gates even opened at 9 a.m. specifically to get a whiff of Amorphophallus titanum, commonly known as the corpse flower, which began emitting the malodorous smell of decaying flesh on Saturday, said Pam Mizuno, complex manager.
The plant was expected to stop producing its odor last night or today, Mizuno said. So an unusually large weekend crowd gathered at the zoo Saturday and yesterday despite the Easter holiday.
Pana‘ewa Rainforest Zoo & Gardens normally draws about 600 people per day on weekends when the weather’s nice.
"People were waiting for me in the parking lot when I opened the gate," Mizuno said. "That usually doesn’t happen. … And they’re still coming in."
The 9-year-old corpse flower is on loan from a Hilo man who wishes to remain anonymous but wanted to share its unusual, rotten smell with zoo visitors, Mizuno said.
When the plant arrived on April 12, its single flower stood 47 inches tall, Mizuno said. Yesterday the flower had grown to 87 inches high and was emitting an odor "that basically smells like meat that’s rotten and has been sitting out for a while," Mizuno said.
Mizuno knew the plant had begun intermittently emitting its smell on Saturday when she saw flies buzzing around it.
"You have to get fairly close to smell it," she said.
In its Indonesian homeland of Sumatra, the corpse flower infrequently emits its smell to attract carrion beetles to what they believe is rotting flesh, Mizuno said.
The beetles move from one Amorphophallus titanum to the next, pollinating them in the process, Mizuno said.
But without other corpse flowers in Hilo — let alone carrion beetles — a University of Hawaii-Hilo botanist pollinated the Amorphophallus titanum Saturday with pollen imported from New York.
A day later, Mizuno said, "it’s definitely already begun deteriorating."
The newly pollinated plant will be returned to its owner this week, she said.
But for at least one weekend, the single plant managed to draw hundreds of new visitors to Hilo’s zoo, Mizuno said.
"You could tell it was a whole different crowd who wouldn’t normally come to the zoo," she said.