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An entire town lined up to take photos with a rare corpse flower at an abandoned gas station
Rhododendrites/Bg2655, Wikimedia Commons

When you have a flower that only blooms once a decade or so, you probably want to share it with the world when it does.

Nursery owner Solomon Leyva decided to wheel his rare corpse flower out to an abandoned gas station in Alameda, California on May 18 to share the joy—and the stank—of it in bloom. The corpse flower is so named because of its rotting smell when it's in full bloom. (The smell has been described as "worse than a thousand pukes," which may also explain why Leyva brought it out into a wide open space during its flowering phase. Even though it only blooms for a day or two, it's probably not too pleasant to have that smell indoors, even in a greenhouse.)

The first bloom of a corpse flower takes around seven to 10 years. After that, it's anyone's guess how often it will bloom. For some, it's every few years, for others it can be several decades between blooms.


Corpse flowers are huge, growing up to 10 feet in height, and most of the time they sit with their "petals" (actually a singular frilly leaf called the spathe) wrapped up around their towering centers (called the spadix). When in bloom, the spadix actually creates heat, and a combination of chemicals put off a mix of smells described as cheesy and garlicky, sweaty feet-ish, and rotting fishy.

In other words, the rare blooming corpse flower is a feast for both the eyes and the nose.

Leyva told the San Francisco Chronicle that he shares his extremely rare plants on Instagram, and when he saw people showing interest in his corpse flower, he decided to bring it out for the public to enjoy.

"I grabbed my wagon, went down to my greenhouse, put it in with the help of a friend of mine, dragged it down here to this abandoned building and people just started showing up," Leyva said.

Leyva sat near the flower in a folding chair and answered people's questions. He didn't set any rules for viewing, but as more and more people arrived, they formed an orderly line on their own, sometimes stretching down the block. By late afternoon, Leyva estimated that at least 1,200 residents had visited the flower.

"Everyone is commenting to me that the last time they've seen this was in San Francisco, and there was a barrier, and they had to wait for hours, and they weren't allowed to get near it," he said. "I think everyone's tripping out that they can walk up and wiggle it and smell it."

The combination of the bloom being a rare event as well as a putrid curiosity is likely what brought so many people out to an abandoned gas station to see a single flower. But the flood of visitors may also have been because Leyva's instinct to share something special with the public in such an unlikely place, expecting nothing in return, created a sense of community that we've all been craving during the pandemic. No cost, no fuss, no hassle, just "Hey, I've got this big ass flower that only blooms every ten years or so and it's blooming now so come take a look! And by the way, it reeks!" And the people came.

Thank you, Solomon Leyva, for sharing your cool, rank flower and reminding us that sometimes people will do something awesome for people just because it's an awesome thing to do for people.

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