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Drop dead gorgeous: Rogers Park resident displays home-grown corpse flower in full bloom

Dale Wheeler’s near-7-foot-tall flower with a foul smell drew the attention of Rogers Park residents after photos of the plant went viral in a community Facebook group.

Dale Wheeler, who stands at 6 foot, two inches, stands next to a blooming corpse flower.
Dale Wheeler, who stands at 6 foot, 2 inches, is next to a blooming corpse flower Tuesday that he grew at his Rogers Park home.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

If you walked past Jarvis Avenue in Rogers Park on Thursday afternoon, you would’ve seen passersby stopping to take a selfie with a near-7-foot-tall smelly plant.

Dale Wheeler, a Rogers Park resident, bought a handful of Amorphophallus titanum bulbs nearly a decade ago — better known as the “corpse flower.” The flower currently on display outside of his building has taken about seven years to bloom, he said.

Corpse flowers are named so because they exude an odor that smells like a rotting corpse.

Wheeler started gardening 16 years ago, when he took out the front yard of his building, ripped out the grass and planted perennials and prairie plants native to the area. He even has a fountain in the garden — currently covered up — that flows in the summer and attracts birds. Now, his blooming corpse flower stands tall on the lawn for all his neighbors to see.

“When I cut this one off, I thought, ‘I’ll stick it out in the front yard for all my neighbors that walk by all the time.’ They’ll know immediately what it is because I’ve described it to them,” Wheeler said. “That’s where it kind of went crazy on Facebook.”

Dale Wheeler looks inside a blooming corpse flower that he grew in his Rogers Park home.
Dale Wheeler looks inside a blooming corpse flower that he grew in his Rogers Park home, Thursday, March 4, 2021. | Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Wheeler actually owns three corpse flowers, but he said the stalk of the one on display started to stink up his building. White beads have already started to form on the stalk, which are the part of the flower that puts out the smell.

The cold weather mitigates some of the flower’s aroma, but Wheeler said keeping the plant indoors is what causes the plant to develop the odor for which it gets its name. He said he plans to keep it on display until the flower dies, but for now he’s letting the plant grow out its white beads. Over the last two days, he said the number of white beads on the stalk have doubled.

Chicago natives might recall the famous corpse flower featured at the Chicago Botanic Garden in 2015. About 75,000 people ventured out to see the flower in full bloom that year.

Rayne Whitington, who lives a few blocks away from Wheeler, was one of many in the neighborhood that came out to see the corpse flower. He said he saw photos of the plant gain traction in the neighborhood Facebook group.

Some of Whitington’s friends planned to swing by with their kids, who were excited to see the alien-like plant in full bloom just minutes away.

“I remember hearing about it when they had one of these at the Botanic Garden,” Whitington said. “But I’ve never seen one before.”

A blooming corpse flower sits in a bucket of water outside a home, in the Rogers Park neighborhood.
A blooming corpse flower sits in a bucket of water outside a home, in the Rogers Park neighborhood, Thursday, March 4, 2021. | Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Editor’s note: The story was updated to correct Dale Wheeler’s first name.