An exotic corpse flower bloomed unexpectedly last week in Wausau. The timing during the Christmas break probably kept hundreds of people from seeing the rare event.UW-Marathon County biology professor Paul Whitaker says you can smell the corpse flower before you see it.
"It has the smell of carrion or rotting flesh," he says. "The flower is bright red, almost looks like raw flesh."
Whitaker looks in disbelief at the four-foot-tall, pungent bloom in the UW Marathon County greenhouse. The flower looks offensive. The smell is offensive. Even the name is offensive to some.
"Amorpho Phallus," he says. "Amorpho means 'without shape.' And Phallus is a nice technical name for the male member of the anatomy."
When one of these rare corpse flowers bloomed in Madison eleven years ago, Whitaker was among the thousands of people who witnessed it.
"When I heard it bloomed I made the trip all the way to Madison just to see it," he says.
So this premature bloom came as a quite a surprise to Whitaker.
"I expected it to sit here in the greenhouse all winter in a pot, but instead, sure enough, beginning of December it started sending up a spike."
A spike that turned unexpectedly into a flower right before Christmas, when the campus was closed and there was no one to see it.
"I guess this must be a shy individual that doesn't seek celebrity status," he says.
Whitaker says there have been only 165 recorded corpse flower blooms in history.
"The plants bloom so infrequently that most of the people who have them do name them," he says. "The one in Madison was called 'Big Bucky.'"
So what did Paul Whitaker name his corpse flower?
"Ray, after the student that brought it to us," he says.