PR PLAY OF THE WEEK: UW-M's sexy PR is blooming nicely

MADISON, WI: The scientific name for the Titan arum plant did not

appear in the first draft of the University of Wisconsin press release

announcing its imminent flowering.

The Latin name Amorpho-phallus titanium translates to "deformed penis"

and Terry Devitt, UW-M's director of research communications, had

thought it best to leave that detail out.

"But I mentioned it to the university chancellor who chuckled and said

to put it in there," Devitt said. So for reminding the world that botany

is really about sex, and for turning a science story into a cash cow,

UW-M has earned a PR Play of the Week.

The plant, native to Indonesia and also known as the "corpse flower,"

blooms only a few times over its 40-year life span, emitting an odor of

rotting meat. It now stands at almost eight feet tall and is due to

flower any day.

The PR team mobilized two weeks ago when it was clear the plant would

bloom. "The goal was to make people aware that this was happening

through the media, and to manage an unpredictable event," Devitt


Botany professors were enlisted to field media calls and a Webcam was

set up to keep fans abreast of its progress. For the first time in six

years, the UW-M Web site crashed due to heavy traffic.

Coverage began in local newspapers and TV stations and has spread this

week to Agence France Presse, AP, The Financial Times and UPI.

T-shirts, posters and postcards were created and have been ringing up

brisk sales to some 5,000 visitors. Money has been coming in droves to

the UW-M foundation, bringing the botany department closer to its goal

of expanding the greenhouse and gardens.

The spokespeople have not shied away from talking about the plant's

erotic qualities. Apparently the plant heats up as it flowers, and its

column shape leaves little to the imagination. "We were wondering if

Pfizer (the makers of Viagra) would be interested in sponsoring it,"

said botany professor Thomas Sharkey.

The ultimate fate of the flower will be familiar to romantics. It only

lasts a few days before collapsing.

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