The hottest ticket in town is a $5 pass to meet Audrey, a strange and giant blooming plant whose rare debut at California Carnivores in Sebastopol already has drawn hundreds of visitors eager to brave her notoriously off-putting fragrance and witness her short-lived spectacle.
Many discovered during their visit to the carnivorous plant nursery Tuesday, however, that Audrey’s nose-wrinkling scent was not nearly as awful as anticipated.
She’s a corpse flower, so there are hints of rotting flesh in her bouquet — a kind of “dead fish meets stinky cheese,” one shop employee said.
There’s also a touch of over-ripe fruit, and, maybe even grody body odor, like from someone who has been working outside in the heat for a couple of days without showering.
Damon Collingsworth, a co-owner and general manager of the shop, said pungent smell of decay had faded some since late Monday and Tuesday morning, when it was “very strong and head-achy” — bad enough that after about 30 minutes he reported feeling a kind of emotional and physical distress.
By Tuesday afternoon, when Collingsworth fanned a square of cardboard over the plant to send the aroma wafting toward visitors, members of the crowd were describing notes of dog food, a cat’s litter box or something “noxious, with sweet undertones.”
One woman likened it to the smell of a dead rodent under the floorboards just rotted enough to bring attention to itself.
“It actually kind of smells like the seashore to me,” said another woman, Terri Lay, of Antioch.
“Yeah,” added Collingsworth. “Low-tidy.”
Audrey, named after Audrey II, a giant, man-eating plant in the stage and movie musical “Little Shop of Horrors,” is native to the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Like the hundreds of other unusual plants at California Carnivores, the plant requires heat and humidity to thrive, making a trip to check her out a muggy experience.
Most visitors were just thrilled to get a glimpse of the enormous maroon flower as it bloomed for the first time in its 10-year existence, its ruffled spathe finally opening Monday afternoon, revealing another foot or so of the tall, stalk-like spadex at its center that puts the plant’s overall height at about 5-foot-3-inches, Collingsworth said.
“I’ve never seen a flower that size,” said Chris Hanson, 34, who works down the street and had come into the store several times to watch the plant develop. “It’s just impressive.”
Formally called an amorphophallus titanum — so named because of the central phallus-like structure — the corpse flower, sometimes called a carrion flower, blooms for only a day or two, during which it is receptive to pollination.
Unlike most other species in the shop, the corpse flower is not carnivorous and does not attract, trap and kill different creatures to absorb their nutrients.
It’s believed the flower’s appearance and odor are intended to resemble rotting meat and thus attract pollinator insects, like flies or carrion beetles. The communal, skirt-like spathe conceals two rings of tiny female and male and female flowers at the base of the spadex.
Collingsworth, who has had the plant for about eight years, had been providing status updates to his customers on social media since he saw signs that it might finally bloom this year, but word had spread far beyond through news accounts and other means.