5 Canadian plants that stink

Published: September 20, 2018

A corpse flower in New York Photo by JStone/Shutterstock

They were large and smelly and blooming all over Canada these past few months. We’re talking about corpse flowers, of course. The Toronto Zoo’s blossomed earlier in September; a specimen at Vancouver’s Bloedel Conservatory opened up and reeked briefly in July; and back in May, Gagnus, of Edmonton’s Muttart Conservatory, graced visitors with its beautiful colour and hideous scent.

Did you miss out? Don’t worry. Canada has its own wild-growing native plants that also rank high on the stink scale but bloom far more frequently, for longer. (Like corpse flowers, they’re pollinated by carrion insects such as flies and beetles—hence the stench.)

Check out these five foul varieties. You know, if you want to. “I tend to avoid stinky plants,” admits Douglas Justice, the associate director of horticulture and collections with the UBC Botanical Garden. “I’m actually perplexed by people who collect such things in their gardens.”

1. Eastern skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus); Western skunk cabbage (Lysichiton americanum)

eastern skunk cabbage, a stinky plant, found in the forest
Photo by Andrea J Smith/Shutterstock

Where to smell it in Canada Wetlands

Eastern skunk cabbage can bloom even when the ground is frozen, as early as late February. The mottled purple flowers emerge first, later followed by leaves. Skunk cabbages smell skunky when they flower, but the leaves also smell if they’re crushed or broken. Western skunk cabbage, which is yellow, smells even skunkier, says Justice.

2. Red trillium (Trillium erectrum)

a rare red trillium found on a hike
Photo by Phill Doherty/Shutterstock

Where to smell it in Canada The Canadian Shield

White trilliums are famous, sure—they’re Ontario’s provincial flowers. But their relatives, red trilliums, deserve a shout-out for their putrid stench. Fake out alert: red trilliums are usually reddish purple, but in some cases, the flowers bloom white.

3. Kamchatka lily (Fritillaria camschatcensis)

Chocolate Lily (Fritillaria camschatcensis)
Photo by Nick Pecker/Shutterstock

Where to smell it in Canada British Columbia

This dark red-to-brown lily is also called “chocolate lily” because of the colour of its petals, and occasionally called “dirty diaper lily” or “outhouse lily” for reasons that become obvious to anyone who gets too close. “The red flowers are typically more on the dirty diaper smell-spectrum,” says Justice.

4. Pawpaw (Asimina tribola)

Fruit of the common pawpaw (asimina triloba) growing on a tree
Photo by EQRoy/Shutterstock

Where to smell it in Canada The Carolinian forest of Southwestern Ontario

Pawpaw is a tropical-looking tree that produces a delicious, mango-like yellow-green fruit with a custardy texture. Yummy! Its bright flowers, however, stink of decomposing flesh. Not yummy.

5. Dutchman’s pipe (Aristolochia macrophylla)

Aristolochia macrophylla or Dutchman's Pipe
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Where to smell it in Canada Ontario

Not only does Dutchman’s pipe, a climbing vine, smell rancid, “it has flowers that look in part like rotting meat,” says Justice. At least to flies. Maybe they don’t know what Dutchmen, or their pipes, actually look like.

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