The Smelly Starfish Flower

I saw the starfish flower for the first time a few years ago in St. Elizabeth, Jamaica. I didn’t know its name and everyone I showed the photo to, shook their heads. They didn’t know either. All I knew for sure was that the stems made me think it had to be from the cactus family. I also knew that I was intrigued by the shape and squiggly lines.

Open Carrion Plant
Carrion Plant

A few weeks ago, I was visiting a friend. As we sipped lemonade and chatted on her verandah, she stopped mid sentence, “Smell that?” she asked, furrowing her brow.

“No. What?”

“There, don’t you see it?”

I looked in the direction she’d pointed, the place she insisted the odor was coming from. But all I saw was lush, green foliage. Nothing seemed out of place or able to produce the foul smell she alluded to. I didn’t see or smell anything offensive and told her so. But it didn’t seem to reassure her.

“Don’t you see that yellow flower, the one that looks like a large star?”

By now I could hear tension creeping into her voice. I felt at any moment, she’d spring from her seat to seek out the odor that was preventing her from enjoying her lemonade.

Later, as I was leaving, as if to vindicate herself, she pointed out the plant. Even though I was now closer, I still couldn’t smell it but I recognized it as the same one I had admired and had been unable to identify years earlier. When I asked, she said it was the starfish flower.

The starfish is a variety of carrion flower. These flowers produce a putrid odor, probably from the insects that pollinate them, that some say is similar to rotting flesh.  I’m not sure why I didn’t smell it. I also wondered why my friend had it in her garden if she didn’t like the smell. Maybe, I though as I walked through her gate, its beauty makes up for its smell – sometimes.


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17 comments on “The Smelly Starfish Flower

  1. Your story about the smelly star fish was great – but I also enjoyed looked at such an unusual design in a flower.

  2. I remember briefly studying this variety of flower in biology class in college. I’ve never smelled or seen one in real life, but I’m pretty apprehensive after the lessons. Apparently they, like you said, put off a smell like decaying dead animal which attracts the flies that pollinate the plant. The picture sure is nice, but I’m not sure about them in real life.

  3. They look just as lovely in real life, Janel. I took lots of photos the first time I saw it, I was just fascinated.
    I’m glad I didn’t smell it, though.

  4. That flower/plant is amazing, Marcia. That’s funny you sharing the dialogue you two had and she could smell the odor but you couldn’t. I think a lot of us experience that from time to time around another and the one who can smell it looks at you like you have 16 heads on your shoulders for not being able to! 🙂

  5. Hahaha, I’m sure she was thinking that, Mike. But I honestly didn’t smell it at all either that time or the first time I saw it. It was also in someone’s garden and they had quite a few.

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