Lois: What Happens Next [Corpse Flower]

July 25, 2010

Corpse Flower Cutie!
Lois mania will soon die down, but we hope her
bloom has inspired kids like Elora
(who made this amazing hat with her mom!)
to stay excited about science.
Check out the rest of our Lois photos on Flickr.

NOTE: The last ticket time available to see Lois tonight will be 11 pm. The Museum returns to normal operating hours tomorrow, Monday, July 26. Lois will remain on display throughout this week, and the Lois webcam will remain live, while she works on returning to a dormant state.

Lois is nearing the end.  What a show it has been! This is what has happened over the past couple of days.

Friday, the female flowers inside Lois’s chamber (the swollen portion at the bottom of the spathe) became receptive.  When this happens, the big spadix starts to heat up to volatize the stinky pheromone (scent) and send it far and wide.  In nature, insects attracted to rotting, stinky stuff such as decaying bodies would come flocking, thinking they would find something good to eat or especially a place to lay their eggs.  Of course this is nothing but a trick.  The insects crawl down into the corpse flower’s chamber through small openings around the spadix where the spathe is constricted.  Hopefully these insects had already been fooled by another corpse flower, and so came bearing pollen (completely inadvertent on their part).  Once inside they would roam around,  scrambling over the flowers inside, looking for the rotting meat.  Alas, it is just a hoax, and they are trapped inside the chamber for 24 hours or so.  Meanwhile, the male flowers open to shed their pollen.  Only then are the insects able to crawl back out – and fly on to the next corpse flower, perhaps many miles away.

So – in Lois’s case, Friday her female flowers were receptive – so the stink was strongest to draw in pollinations.  Saturday, there were only faint remnants of her scent. The female flowers are no longer receptive; now it’s the males’ turn. We plan to collect some pollen to freeze (the best way to preserve its viability) so we can send it on to any other botanical garden that might want to fertilize their corpse flower when it blooms.

In Lois’s case, she is too young and too small to be pollinated.  It is very costly [Ed. note: hard on the plant] to produce that huge inflorescence (bloom) and to spend another year ripening the fruits might do her in.  Instead Lois is starting to wilt and her spadix will collapse soon.  We are not sure how fast this will happen, but the entire flowering structure will eventually crumble or rot and fall away, leaving only the tuber – which will have lost up to 25% of its weight.

At that point we will unearth Lois and examine her tuber to make sure she’s okay.  We will weigh her and dust her with powdered sulfur to prevent fungal and insect damage.  After the tuber dries out for a few days we will repot her in fresh soil, but will keep it quite dry until next spring, when we hope she will produce a leaf again.  It may be several more years before Lois has recuperated enough mass to bloom again.  We hope that next time her tuber will be much bigger and at that point, she might be able to survive the ordeal of producing fruit.

Authored By Nancy Greig

Dr. Nancy Greig is the founding director of the Cockrell Butterfly Center, which she oversaw from 1994 to 2016. As emeritus director she continues to work with the museum doing outreach and education. Her academic training is in botany and entomology, with a specialty in the interaction between insects, especially butterflies, and plants. In addition to cultivating backyard butterflies, she grows vegetables and bees

13 responses to “Lois: What Happens Next [Corpse Flower]”

  1. Sarah says:

    Thanks for all the valuable information!

  2. Katherine says:

    Thank you for the excellent explanation of Lois!

  3. Jill Moffitt says:

    Thank you, thank you thank you!

  4. Kimberly says:

    Thank you for blogging about this and having the web cam. I know that the tech/distance learning people from my district have been trying to get hold of you all.

    We would love to collaborate with the museum and other schools around the nation the next time you all have an event like this.

    It would be great if students could regularly communicate with your experts and other classrooms through the year culminating with a field trip to the museum. I know many teachers especially 4th and 5th grade science teachers who would love to have access to experts and better ideas for teaching science

  5. PJ Holliday says:

    Thank you. Very informative. We will be checking on her in the future. Congrats to your staff — well done!

    Dedicated my blog to ‘Lois and Me’ this month — quite inspiring to this nature lover!

  6. Laura says:

    Dr. Nancy, thank you and your whole team at the museum for sharing this experience of Lois with us. It has been a wonderful and fun experience.

  7. Melissa G says:

    Thank you for all the education! Zach and Team Lois have done a tremendous job engaging the worldwide community during Lois’ blooming. What an amazing legacy Lois has left us. She’s helped us all remember our place in the natural world. Plus, she looks awesome in aubergine!

    Looking forward to Funk Watch Part Deux!

  8. Linda says:

    The staff at HMNS is certainly to be congratulated on how well you have presented Lois. It has been a lot of fun and I have especially enjoyed seeing how it has caught on with the entire city and beyond. When we were there late Friday afternoon the lines were long, but the general atmosphere was happy and in the entire time we were there I heard only one negative comment about the wait.

    Now you just need to make a T-shirt with Lois’ picture and the words “I came. I saw. I sniffed.”

    Thanks for the lovely experience.

  9. Kat, thanks for the update and this experience has been a real high. When you stand there in the Butterfly Center and observe this creation of mother nature it is an awe insiring moment. It also is soooo exciting the number of patrons that have been excited about Lois and the exposure and wonders that exist in our Butterfly Center. I heard several times patrons in line saying they had never been in the Butterfly Center and it was a really coool place. We know that but I’m so pleased so many feel the same way and will get the word out about the wonderful place we work and play, The Houston Museum of Natural Science.

  10. A fan of Lois in Japan says:

    Dear HMNS & all staffs of HMNS, and strong supporters,
    Thank you very much for the great contribution about Lois.
    From Japan, I and my daughter monitored and monitored through WEB’s photos and videos. We could learn about corpse flower by the real case before seeing the Japanese LOIS’s bloom at the Koishikawa botanical garden at Tokyo in Japan.
    Especially, the explanation by video and photos hour by hour were very valuable for my daughter ( she is 10 years old). HMNS staffs’ explanation with body actions let us understand beyond difference of language. The many photos let us know the big tendency of corpse flowers.
    I was deeply very moved by the individual specificity of each flower like our kids. I really appreciated the environment of our monitoring in comparable.
    Next, in my children’s century, we might be able to compare ‘smell’s at different places! I believe that the progress of science can make it in future.
    In addition, from your photos, I was very impressed by good manners of your museum’s visitors. It seemed children were able to watch smoothly in from of Lois.
    By Lois, I thought about many things.
    We thank sincerely you !!

  11. displaced yankee chick says:

    My three kids and I visited Lois Friday night. We were so excited to finally be able to see and smell Lois. I saw Zac leaving that evening so we missed meeting him, but we had a great time talking to Dr. Nancy and learning more about Lois. I had been watching the webcam feed for about two weeks and enjoyed watching Lois and her fanbase grow. Thanks to Rice University for arranging the live feed, and to Lois’ Twitter fans for the fun community. I loved waiting for RSG to arrive every afternoon. The tweets, along with the HMNS blog and flickr photos, helped us all learn more about this mysterious plant. I also found it interesting that there were 2 or 3 other titan arums blooming at the same time, and being able to compare the looks of each bloom, even though they were thousands of miles apart. Thanks for taking the time to share this experience with us lucky locals and with the rest of the world.

    Kudos HMNS!!

  12. Abby says:

    Those web cams are awesome!

  13. […] Museum of Natural Science kept their Corpse Flower, Lois, in a climate controlled environment so the show could go on: rain, shine, or roasting. […]

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