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Corpse Flower Creates Monster Stench In Washington, D.C.


Corpse flowers are rare, gigantic and disgusting. NPR's Will Huntsberry caught one in bloom at the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C., last night.

WILL HUNTSBERRY, BYLINE: It's 9 p.m., but this line is insane. It, in fact, snakes around an entire city block. So, Mike, can you just tell me, like, what are we doing here? What's going on?

MIKE VAN KAMPEN: We're waiting in line to see - hopefully see the corpse flower.

HUNTSBERRY: Why would anyone want to see something called a corpse flower do you think?

M. VAN KAMPEN: Part of it I think has to do with the smell.

JONAH VAN KAMPEN: That and it barely ever blooms, so it's sort of a rare thing, too.

HUNTSBERRY: Meet Mike Van Kampen and son Jonah, a corpse flower enthusiast.

J. VAN KAMPEN: Regular flowers - they have, like, nice smells because that's what bees like. This one goes for what flies like, which is the smell of corpse.

HUNTSBERRY: Mike and Jonah have tried and failed to see a corpse flower two other times. They only bloom about once a decade and then only for a day or two. This one looks a lot like a seven-foot-tall peace lily. Fast forward an hour. Oh, my God, you made it.

J. VAN KAMPEN: Yeah, we got in. And it smells like garbage.

HUNTSBERRY: Kind of peppery garbage mixed in with a few dirty diapers. The Van Kampens were thrilled they finally got to see it even though the smell was past its peak.

JACQUELYN WRIGHT: Not like decomp.


HUNTSBERRY: Jacquelyn Wright was not impressed. She and Mary Stanley - they're death investigators at a local medical examiner's office.

WRIGHT: We were pretty excited to actually compare...

STANLEY: The smell (laughter).

WRIGHT: ...The actual smell of a dead body to this supposed corpse flower.

HUNTSBERRY: Their verdict?

WRIGHT: Definitely not comparable.

HUNTSBERRY: But hey, it's still a seven-foot flower that blooms once a decade. Will Huntsberry, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Will Huntsberry is an assistant producer in NPR's elections unit, where he produced a piece about Don Gonyea's favorite campaign trail playlists, reported on the one place in Washington where former House Speaker John Boehner could feel like "a regular guy," and other stories that get beneath the surface of American politics.
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