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plant that smells like skunk

What is this flower that smells like a skunk?

This has been blooming in the sun in my yard in Massachusetts for the past two weeks. We’ve only lived here since last spring and since I didn’t plant it, I’m guessing it’s a perennial. What’s intriguing is that the flower smells like it’s been sprayed by a skunk. The leaves have no odor. Can anyone tell me what it is?

1 Answer 1

It looks like Cleome hassleriana, commonly known as spider flower.

Identifying characteristics are the compound leaves with seven leaflets, the long petioles (leaf stalks), the way that the individual flowers are held tightly furled around the flower head, and the long stamens visible on the older flowers lower down on the head.

It’s an annual, and spreads easily, so you may end up with more of it next year if you don’t remove the seed heads when they form (if they even will, this late in the year).

What is this flower that smells like a skunk? This has been blooming in the sun in my yard in Massachusetts for the past two weeks. We’ve only lived here since last spring and since I didn’t

8 of the world’s smelliest plants, from corpse flowers to skunk cabbages

Not all flowers smell as sweet as the proverbial rose. Here are eight foul-smelling plants you won’t want to see blooming in your garden.

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When you step out on to your patio on balmy summer evenings, you should be greeted with the delicious fragrances of honeysuckle, night-scented stocks, chocolate cosmos and other heady garden favourites wafting in the air.

But be careful which flowers you choose to place in your outdoor space – because pongy plants can ruin the party whatever the time of year.

The worst offenders can give off the stink of rotting flesh, dead horses, roadkill skunk and even poo. The problem is, flowers emit smells to attract pollinating insects, but that includes flies which can’t tell a sweet perfume from a rotten egg.

So which smelly plants should you avoid?

Titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum)

This stinky candidate is also known as the corpse flower because it smells of rotting flesh thanks to its enormous flower spikes which can heat up to 36 degrees and emit the stench of a dead animal. It grows to three metres in height and its massive crimson flower spans a staggering three metres.

You won’t find it in the average British garden though, as it prefers the rainforests of Sumatra as its natural habitat. You can admire it in the exotic sections of botanical gardens such as the Eden Project in Cornwall and at Kew in West London.

Skunk Cabbage (Lysichiton americanus)

As its name suggests, this tropical-looking bog plant native to cold, wet, northern climates smells like skunk when it flowers. Often found at the edge of ponds where its roots are saturated, it’s best not to keep it near a seating area, although it does have impressive shiny green exotic-looking wide leaves and lily-type yellow flowers. At first the flower smells slightly sweet – but not for long…

Crown Imperial (Fritillaria imperialis)

These majestic bulbs bear pendulous, bell-shaped flowers in shades of red, yellow and orange in spring and give off a whiffy, musky pong said to discourage deer and squirrels from your garden. So if you want to avoid a bad smell on your patio, go for fragrant spring hyacinths instead.

Stinking Iris (Iris foetidissima)

The rich, glossy leaves of this evergreen perennial may look gorgeous, but they have a pungent scent. However, many people grow them because they come into their own in autumn and winter, when they produce purple flowers followed by large pods opening to reveal brilliant orange, sometimes red, seeds. If you’ve gone inside by then, the smell shouldn’t bother you.

Pineapple lily (Eucomis bicolour)

It sounds tasty and sweet, but don’t be fooled by the pineapple lily’s pretty summer flowers – its genus name means ‘lovely haired’ because of the crown-like tuft of bracts topping the flower head. A native of South Africa, it smells like something has died and that’s because the flowers are pollinated almost exclusively by flies, and are particularly attractive to carrion flies due to sulphur compounds in the scent.

Voodoo Lily (Dracunculus vulgaris)

Also known as the stink lily, the snake lily and the black dragon, this awfully pungent bloom, originally found in and around Greece, smells of rotting flesh. The good news is the smell only lasts about a day and the flower is beautiful – a magnificent deep purple-black spathe, or leaf-like bract, that opens in June to reveal a purple-black fleshy spike bearing tiny flowers.

Rafflesia arnoldii

This giant produces the largest individual flower in the world and, boy, does it pong. As with several other foul-smelling blooms, the scent is designed to smell like rotting carrion to attract flies. Despite its unsavoury stench, Rafflesia arnoldii, endemic to the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra, is considered one of the three national flowers in Indonesia, where it is a protected species.

Hydnora africana

A native of southern Africa, this fleshy flower is known for having the appearance of female genitalia, but smells of faeces, largely because its pollinator of choice is the dung beetle. The only part of Hydnora africana that ever emerges through the soil surface is the top of the flower, usually once every few years. It is also a parasitic plant that drills into the roots of euphorbias, stealing nutrients away from those plants so it doesn’t have any need for sun.

Not all flowers smell as sweet as the proverbial rose. Here are eight foul-smelling plants you won’t want to see blooming in your garden.