Greg Wahlert, University of Utah
SALT LAKE CITY — Just in time for Valentine's Day, a plant bloomed on the University of Utah campus last weekend that might be the worst possible choice for a valentine bouquet.
The scent would probably send anyone's sweetie running in the opposite direction.
It's apparently a newly discovered plant species found in Madagascar by a U. scientist. According to all accounts, it stinks. It reeks. It has an aroma somewhere in between rotten meat and a dirty toilet.
"The smell is certainly nauseating," said botanist Greg Whalert. "It's a really foul odor. But it's a beautiful plant."
Whalert specializes in violets and he went looking for some in Madagascar, a large island off the east coast of Africa. Instead, he brought back a species of plant that he believes has never been documented before.
It began blooming last Friday in a campus greenhouse and over the weekend, its aroma quickly became a hot topic of conversation.
"It smelled like a cross between carrion and feces," Wahlert said. "It was really a bad odor."
The rank aroma was verified by Jose Rojas, facilities manager for the University of Utah Department of Biology after he was invited to enter the greenhouse and sniff the plant. "So I came in and the smell just hit me," Rojas said. "It smelled like a poorly maintained urinal."
The delightful plant is a relative of the so-called "corpse flower," which is known for being a real stinker. Such plants in the genus Amorphophallus were cursed by nature with a disgusting calling-card: They smell like something died there. The aroma tricks flies and other bugs into thinking they're smelling rotten meat.
"And instead, they crawl around the flowers and get pollen on them," Wahlert said. "And they go to the next flower and they cross-pollinate."
Unlike some of its close relatives, the plant doesn't really stink up a room or a greenhouse. For some reason, it doesn't project its smell very far from the flower. "Unless you stuck your nose right up to it, it was OK to be around," Wahlert said.
Rojas' scouting expedition into the greenhouse was a quick one. "It didn't take long for me to get it sniffed and leave the area," he said.
Wahlert has already cut the plant down — not because it stinks, but to flatten it out in a press so he can send it to other experts to verify that it's a new species.
"It's really a charismatic plant," Wahlert said. He's already given it a name: Amorphophallus perrieri.
Before sending it away, though, Wahlert and his colleagues saved the smell. In a tiny vial, they collected a vile liquid secreted by the plant.
"Yeah, it's definitely reminiscent of some sort of rotting animal," said biology student Cameron McIntire as he opened the vial and took a whiff. "Or maybe like a public restroom type of smell. It's really nasty."
Wahlert is pretty sure it's a new species so he's sending it off to Paris. It's not going to that fashion capital because Wahlert has some bizarre new perfume in mind. He's sending it to other scientists to verify his discovery.
As for the Valentine's Day angle, Wahlert doesn't recommend his new discovery as a gift for a loved one.
"You certainly wouldn't want to do that," he said. "That would entail a break-up soon after, I'm sure."
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