Nine Ways to Lure a Lover, Orchid-Style

Beauty, mystery and deceit—the Smithsonian’s collection of nearly 8,000 live orchids has it all

(James Osen)

A Rotten Stench

Bulbophyllum echinolabium
(James Osen)
The reddish, furry lip of Bulbophyllum echinolabium not only looks like dead meat—Mirenda compares it to a “bloody limb of a mouse”—but it smells like it too. Occasionally, when the Indonesian orchid is in bloom and Mirenda is giving a tour of the Smithsonian’s greenhouse in Suitland, Maryland, he will include it in a lineup of fragrant flowers just to rattle sniffing visitors. “You usually have to get up pretty close,” says Mirenda. “But on really hot summer days, you can smell it from a distance.”

The putrid stench attracts flies, which land on the foot-long orchid, thinking it is a good place to lay eggs. “As the fly moves around on the lip, the lip rocks and puts the fly’s body in contact with the pollenia, which it then takes on its back to some other flower some distance away,” says Mirenda.

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