Hous­ton’s odor­if­er­ous Lois is done rais­ing a stink

Austin American-Statesman - - LOCALBRIEFING - By Matthew Wool­bright

Hous­ton’s beloved corpse flower, Lois, bit the dust Sun­day evening.

Or at least her fa­mous bloom did.

Af­ter weeks of draw­ing record crowds to the Hous­ton Mu­seum of Nat­u­ral Sci­ence, the spadex of the stinky flower col­lapsed about 4:45 p.m. — leav­ing vis­i­tors to mourn the loss.

“We came to see a piece of his­tory,” said Mark Swist, a 27-year-old Austin res­i­dent who was wait­ing in line when the bloom fell. “It’s kinda dis­ap­point­ing to be so close. We wanted to see it in real life, but we’re just en­joy­ing be­ing here and the ex­pe­ri­ence.”

About 65,000 vis­i­tors made their way to see Lois in July, more than triple the Cock­rell But­ter­fly Cen­ter’s June fig­ures.

The so-called corpse flower, nick­named for its stench, drew a cult­like fol­low­ing since word of her po­ten­tial bloom spread ear­lier this month, with thou­sands watch­ing the flower via we­b­cam. It was only the sec­ond rare Amor­phophal­lus ti­tanum bloom in Texas and the 29th in the nation.

“These last few weeks have been crazy, ex­hil­a­rat­ing,” said Nancy Greig, di­rec­tor of the but­ter­fly cen­ter. “The neat­est thing for me, a botanist by train­ing, was see­ing peo­ple get­ting so ex­cited about a plant.”

Cordelia Price, 54, vis­ited Lois dozens of times and was at the cen­ter when she fell.

“I knew it was go­ing to hap­pen. It’s just kind of sad,” the Hous­ton res­i­dent said. “It re­ally was ma­jes­tic when it was open.”

Now that the spadex has top­pled, the rest of the vis­i­ble part of the flower will ac­tu­ally be “sucked” back into the corm, or un­der­ground stem, Greig said. The mu­seum plans to keep Lois on dis­play for vis­i­tors and we­b­cam view­ers to ob­serve her de­cline.

She’ll even­tu­ally be un­earthed, weighed and dusted with pow­dered sul­fur to pre­vent dam­age. When Lois dries off, she’ll be re­pot­ted in fresh soil and kept dry un­til next spring, at which time ex­perts hope she will pro­duce a leaf.

It could take years for Lois to re­cu­per­ate enough mass to bloom again, ex­perts said, adding that they hope the next time her tu­ber is big­ger and that she’ll be able to pro­duce fruit. The mu­seum has an­other corpse flower in the green­house that could flower some­time in the fu­ture.

They’ve learned a few lessons that they hope will help with fu­ture blooms.

“All flow­ers are dif­fer­ent in­di­vid­u­ally,” Greig said. “Maybe this one was a tall and skinny kind that doesn’t open much.”

Greig and oth­ers have said that Lois may not have reached full bloom be­cause she was moved from the green­house to the ex­hibit area. The tem­per­a­ture drop could have put the plant in shock, they said.

“Cer­tainly we would not sub­ject it to air con­di­tion­ing as we did in our ig­no­rance,” Greig said.

The mu­seum stayed open around-the-clock most of last week to ac­com­mo­date the tremen­dous pub­lic in­ter­est in the rare plant. Some of the ex­tra rev­enue will go to the cen­ter’s cap­i­tal cam­paign, Greig said.

Many Hous­to­ni­ans felt a sense of pride at be­ing hosts to such a rare oc­cur­rence in the botany world.

“It’s cool to have such a rare event take place so close to where we live,” said David McWhirter, 23.

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