The so-called "corpse flower" bloomed Friday at the Huntington Library in San Marino, unleashing its notorious stench of rotting flesh.
The flower, known formally as Amorphophallus titanum, began its rare bloom around 2 p.m., according to officials at the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens.
Shortly before the flower began opening, staffers at the library noticed that flies had already begun swirling around the 3-foot-9-inch-tall plant -- a good indicator that a bloom was imminent. Sure enough, the petals soon began opening and the rotting-flesh smell began wafting through the air.
The latest corpse flower is smaller than its predecessors that bloomed at The Huntington in 1999, 2002 and 2009. It was grown from seed produced in 2002 by a flower at UC Santa Barbara, which fertilized its flower with pollen from The Huntington's 2002 bloom.
"Because of cooperative efforts among institutions, each bloom -- whether here or elsewhere -- has provided an opportunity to propagate these plants, which are endangered in their native habitats," said James Folsom, director of the Botanical Gardens. "But to see one of these marvels in bloom is still an exciting event.
"The flowers appear infrequently and they last for only about a day, so you have to be in the right place at the right time to catch one in the act," he said.
The plant, native to the rain forests of Sumatra and also known as Titan Arum, is billed as the world's largest flower, but it is technically an "inflorescence," or a cluster of flowers. It can reach more than six feet in height when it blooms, opening to a diameter of three to four feet.
When in one of its rare blooms, it gives off an odor akin to rotting flesh, attracting insects that pollinate the flowers deep inside.
When a specimen was first displayed at the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens in the late 19th century, at least one Victorian woman was said to have swooned when she got a whiff of the bloom. The flower was first displayed in the United States in 1937 at the New York Botanical Garden.
The Huntington's corpse flower is on display at the garden's Rose Hills Foundation Conservatory for Botanical Science, which houses hundreds of rare tropical specimens.
For daily updates, the public can visit the library's website at www.huntington.org.