Saturday, August 7, 2010

Lois, Belatedly

A couple of weeks ago, Matt & I went to Houston to visit my brother & sister-in-law, who are expecting (shout-out to my small prospective nephew!).

As luck would have it, the day of our visit was also the second-to-last day when the Houston Museum of Natural Science's corpse flower (Amorphophallus titanum) would be on display. Naturally, as plant nerds, it was our clear duty to truck down there at 9:45 at night on a Sunday to take a gander.

Sadly, "Lois" was well past her prime by the time we got there. Even so, she was an impressive--if somewhat obscene--sight. (All arum lilies are at least a little obscene, from the flagrantly rampant antherium to the more modest calla lily, but Lois kicks it up a notch or two.)

You've all probably heard this on the news, but Lois is only the 2nd corpse flower to bloom in Texas, and only the 20-somethingth to bloom in the US (the 1st in Texas was at Stephen F Austin's arboretum in 2004--which we completely missed, much to my chagrin. Theirs is named "Big Jack," apparently). They're rare, ginormous (Lois is just a little adolescent), and unpredictable in their blooming.

There was no noticeable stench coming from Lois when we saw her, though it was hot, humid, and packed with people, so it's possible that her smell was drowned out by the people-smell.

In addition to an impressive--if now deflated--spadix (the central flower spike that puts the phallus in Amorphophallus--the name means "misshapen penis"), Lois also has a very nifty Elizabethan ruff in mottled Goth purple.

HMNS says Lois got close to 6 feet tall. You can see on the measuring stick above that by the time we got there, she'd wilted down to three.

For a nifty graphic of the growth stages of the corpse flower, see this pic from the Huntington Gardens (home of another corpse flower, named Stinky).

The HMNS opted not to fertilize Lois this go round:
This is Lois’s first time to bloom. She is young and small (7 yrs old, 30 pound tuber). Often the first blooms are not even fertile. Flowering uses a lot of the tuber’s stored reserves, and fruiting uses even more. We were advised by the head of the arboretum at Berkeley (they have several titan arums) not to pollinate her the first time around. When she has a much larger tuber, perhaps next time she blooms, we may attempt to pollinate her (we will have to get pollen from another botanical garden – it can be frozen apparently. Artificial insemination for plants!)

Lois pretty well stole the show, but we were also impressed by this disgusted-looking iguana in the butterfly center. He clearly thinks all the brouhaha is a complete crock.


Meredith/Great Stems said...

I think making a special trip to see a corpse plant sounds perfectly normal to me! I've been enjoying visiting some of your older entries -- your home, yard, patio, and pond are looking great. A lot of work-- to wonderful success.

Elgin_house said...

Thanks Meredith! Your lovely photographs have given me lens envy for some time now--it isn't just that you get terrific closeups of insects (which is nifty in itself) but that they always seem to be landing gracefully on a petal or a stamen for you, wings outspread, winking at the camera and flashing a grin.

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