Flowers are the reproductive organs of a plant. They are brightly colored and often fragrant to attract potential pollinators like insects and birds. Some plants have adapted a less-than-pleasant fragrance, similar to rotting flesh, to attract their pollinators, usually carrion flies. These flowers are still visually beautiful, even if you have to hold your nose while looking at them.
The titan arum (scientific name Amorphophallus titanum) is native to the tropical jungles of Sumatra where the locals refer to it as the corpse flower because it smells strongly like rotting flesh. The titan arum has the largest flower structure in the plant kingdom. The inflorescence can reach 6 feet tall and 3 feet wide. It is composed of a purple meat-colored leaf-like sheath on a stem surrounding a yellow spike which contains many tiny flowers. The smell of the titan arum is strongest at night, right after the flower opens.
Titan arum roots emerge from a tuber that can reach up to 165 pounds. It produces herbaceous finely cut leaves that reach up to 9 feet tall and 12 feet wide that last for one to two years before the tube goes dormant and produces a beautiful, yet foul-smelling flower.
Skunk cabbage is a tropical-looking bog plant native to cool, wet northern climates. It grows abundantly in western Oregon and Washington. Skunk cabbage (scientific name Lysichiton americanus) is often found right at the edge of a stream or pond where the soil is saturated, sometimes even flooded with a few inches of water. It produces shiny green tropical-looking wide leaves that reach 2 1/2 feet long, emerging from a central bulb. In the spring it produces a lily-type flower with a striking yellow waxy looking spathe surrounding a yellow-green spike. At first the flowers have a slightly sweet smell that then turns to a more skunk-like smell as they age. The skunk smell can be described as similar to old, wet rubber.
Skunk cabbage thrives in wet gardens where the ground gets too saturated for other plants. They prefer cool climates and will survive dormant underground in the winter in freezing temperatures and re-sprout in the spring. Provide them with full sun to part shade. These are a favorite for native plant water gardens in the Pacific Northwest.
Crown Imperials (scientific name Fritillaria imperialis) are classic spring garden flower bulbs. The flower smell is sometimes described as musky or rotten and is purported to deter deer, squirrels and gophers. The pendulous flowers are bell-shaped and are red, yellow or orange. They develop four or five at a time on 2- to 3-foot tall flower spikes topped by a whorl of shiny green leaves.
Crown Imperials do well in USDA hardiness zones 5 through 9. They like full sun in rich, well-drained but moist soil. Plant the bulbs 5 to 8 inches deep in the fall. Cut the flower stems and leaves to the ground for winter after they have died and dried up.