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What Does Horace the Como Corpse Flower Really Smell Like?

After a 102-minute wait, I present: My lunch with Horace.

Tim Lovett

“The seal show filled up really quick, so we asked the kids if they wanted to see the corpse flower and they all said, 'Yeah!’” 

That’s the explanation I get from Sam, an adult chaperone, for why he and four first graders were waiting in line to see Horace, Como Park Conservatory’s Corpse Flower. “It’s rare!” adds one of the eager children. 

We had just entered the Conservatory’s Fern Room, and were about 15 minutes into what ended up being a 102-minute wait for our meet and greet with Horace. I was there with two coworkers, the three of us having tracked Horace’s slow bloom on Como Park’s live feed since May 8. When news broke Thursday morning that Horace had begun to open and start stinking in earnest, we drove over to St. Paul and got in line.

Tim Lovett

And what a line! Stretching through most of the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory, it must be the most picturesque place in the Twin Cities to slowly shuffle through while you wait for something. If you trek out to see Horace, download a plant ID app ahead of time, since you’ll have time to learn all sorts of stuff while you wait. And what are you going to do instead, see the new Garfield movie (1hr 42 min)? You should really go, even after Horace’s flower collapses in the next 24-36 hours. 

After the Fern Room, we shuffled into the Palm Dome, then down to the Sunken Garden (where Sam and the first graders turned back, citing boredom and heat), until we looped back through the Palm Dome and then, crawling past a wall of orchids, we first smelled Horace just outside the North Garden room.

Horace smells bad.

It came in waves, smelling overripe and rottenly sweet to me, with a heavy currant of garbage juice. I’d expected something more earthy, which it definitely is not. Each visitor, volunteer, and staff member I talked to had their own take on the scent of Horace, such as:

  • “Dead mice in the walls”
  • “Sour”
  • “Hot garbage”
  • “Rotten potatoes”
  • “Really bad cabbage times 10” 
  • “Bad, but not as bad as the news made it sound”
  • “Sweaty rot”

We had a lot of time to smell Horace, as the line looped through the North Garden wing, ending with the corpse flower itself. I've never smelled a corpse, so I don’t know if Horace smells like one, but the number of flies gathering suggests it must be close. The flies get in through the conservatory vents, and swarmed over Horace’s spadix and into the flower. If this sounds gross, it’s not! The sheer weirdness of Horace totally overshadows any nastiness.

Tim Lovett

After all the waiting, we had a little less than a minute with Horace himself, which is substantially longer than the time allotted to me when I got my picture taken with Ricky Rubio after a Wolves game 10 years ago. We took a few pictures, leaned in to whiff deeply, and just marveled at how intensely strange Horace looks.

Up close, the smell wasn’t as noticeable. Not because it wasn’t still potently producing, but—and I say this purely from a place of speculation—because we had just spent so much time in the North Garden with Horace that we no longer even noticed it.

Downwind from Horace, I chatted with Matthew Reinertz, the Conservatory’s PR manager (and professed Racket subscriber) about the whole phenomenon. He said every local news channel had either already visited Horace or would by Friday at noon, and he’d just helped St. Croix Sensory, Inc., a “sensory evaluation laboratory company,” with an onsite measurement of the potency and stench of Horace. Reinertz said he’d noticed Horace reeking in waves, and placed himself in the “smells like dead mice” camp.

By the time we left, the line was tripling back on itself in the Zoo’s atrium, reaching a waiting time of close to three hours. Staff announced they would stop adding people to the line at 4 p.m., so if you do go, get there early.

After we left the conservatory, I passed a man and woman pointing to the North Garden wing. “Are you looking for Horace?” I asked, excited and with a need to share. 

No, they were not—instead they were looking at the very spot that he’d proposed to her in 1969. We couldn’t smell Horace from there.

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