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Rare Corpse Flower 'Romero' Makes a Stink at Phipps Conservatory

Casey Premoshis
The Allegheny Front

Romero, the odorous corpse flower, has finally bloomed at Pittsburgh's Phipps Conservatory.

Standing approximately five feet tall with a wrinkly central staff and purple and green petals, Romero started releasing its noxious fragrance Tuesday evening. Nature has designed the flower’s smell to attract beetles and flies, but Romero immediately started attracting human onlookers.

“We were open ‘til 2 a.m. and I can tell you, we had to basically ask people to leave at 2 a.m.,” said Phipps horticulturist Ben Dunigan. “We were still getting people right up until the time we closed.”

Dunigan has taken care of Romero from the time the plant arrived as a tuber — a round bulb from which the corpse flower grew. The conservatory named the plant Romero after Pittsburgh filmmaker George Romero, the man behind the 1968 cult zombie classic "Night of the Living Dead," which was being screened twice Wednesday night at Phipps.

“We’ve had a great response,” Dunigan said. “There was a line all the way out to the road this morning when we opened.”

The plant blooms only every six to 10 years and, even then, it last only one to two days. During the first 15 hours of blooming, a corpse flower releases a smell that’s similar to rotting flesh, hence its name.

But onlookers often have some different ways of describing it. The smell is most pungent in the evening, and by early afternoon on Wednesday, it smelled something like decaying fish at an oceanside.

“It smelled like stinky gym clothes, that you left in your gym bag for about a week,” said Phipps visitor Sydney Zalewski.

But if you don’t make it the gym often, maybe this description from nine-year-old Cole Shughart will help: “It smelled like my neighbor’s dog Franky.”

Casey Premoshis is a reporter for The Allegheny Front. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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