What’s Up With Lois?

7.16.10 Amorphophallus titanum [11 am]
See more photos from this morning’s
evaluation of Lois on Flickr.

It’s the question on everyone’s mind! And as you might be aware, Lois has still not opened. So, Soni Holliday, the greenhouse manager and I will be trying a few horticultural tricks that we have had up our sleeves to nudge Lois along on her path to opening.

Lois is indigenous to the rainforests of Sumatra, where the climate is very hot and humid. The average temperature where Lois is kept has been between 81 and 89, which is plenty hot, but in an attempt to speed up the blooming process we have increased the heat by adding sheets of plastic to the doors to keep the air very stagnant. We have also been misting Lois and all of the plants around her to increase the humidity in the air.

Another trick we have pulled out of our bag is ethylene. Ethylene is one of the five classes of natural plant hormones, and is the hormone that causes fruits to ripen, and blooms to open in all plants. We have added ethylene gas by making a small incision in the back of the spathe, which is a common procedure when pollinating corpse flowers, and taping on a bag filled with over ripe bananas, and apples. The incision itself causes a slight increase in ethylene production, and as the fruits rot they put out ethylene in gas form, which is being channeled into the interior of the inflorescence.

We decided not to pollinate Lois due to the fact it might cause her to close briefly after pollination, but in hindsight, that decision may have led to her taking longer to open.

The incision has a secondary purpose as well: we wanted to take a look at the male and female flowers inside the spathe and see what stage they were in to give us an idea as to why Lois is taking so long to open. And after a visual inspection, everything looks great (see photo at the bottom of this post).

Many people have been concerned with the fact that she is getting light in the evening, and thinking that is causing her to take longer to bloom. As you can see from this video from Kew Gardens, the experts on Amorphophallus blooming, lights do not seem to have any effect on the bloom opening.  But in an attempt to try everything possible we will be giving her a dark period tonight, so we will be closed tonight from midnight to 9am tomorrow morning.

Keep checking back with the blog and the live Lois cam, to see how these modifications have speed up the blooming process.

GO LOIS!!!!!

7.16.10 Amorphophallus titanum [11 am]
When we opened up Lois’ spathe, this is what we
could see – very healthy!
More on Flickr.
This entry was posted in Plants & Insects and tagged by Zac. Bookmark the permalink.

About Zac

Zac joined the museum in January after returning to Houston from a stint studying plants in Hawaii. He is the full-time horticulturist for the Cockrell Butterfly Center, and is in charge of daily maintenance and design for the rainforest exhibit. Zac specializes in tropical plants, particularly epiphytes, and his duties in the rainforest range from feeding all of the plants and animals to hand pollinating some of the tropical fruits, such as vanilla and cacao.

41 thoughts on “What’s Up With Lois?

  1. You can’t just leave her alone to do what she naturally does without any help from man? Even a simple plant isn’t safe from your unnecessary interventions??

  2. Hi Tori, thanks for you comment Here’s what Zac had to say:

    “Making an incision to check on the inside of this kind of plant is a common procedure, and the hormones added are totally natural (from rotting bananas).”

    I hope that helps to alleviate your concerns.

  3. I didn’t say “unnatural” interventions. I said unnecessary ones. Can’t she bloom in her own time?

  4. My questions is, why not just leave her be? I know you are getting impatient and all but what happened to letting nature just take it’s course?

  5. According to our horticulturalists, this was a necessary step to check on Lois health – and we’re happy that she’s doing just fine. As Zac mentioned in the post, other horticulturalists that have had these bloom in the past cut a window to pollinate the plant – which releases ethylene (produced by the plant). We chose not to pollinate the plant, as this causes it to close faster and we want to make sure everyone who wants to has the chance to see her flower. However, the ethylene from the bananas is no different from the ethylene Lois would’ve produced on her own if the plant had been cut sooner.

  6. i’m currently preggers and following lois has been like waiting for a birth! checking on things inside, like an ultrasound, is great for peace of mind. =) i had been wondering what that white thing in the webcam was! rotting bananas, whoda thunk?

  7. Re: fourth paragraph in “What’s Up with Lois” – how can you pollinate the flower before it opens? I thought that was the whole point of flowering – pollination. Did you tell her you weren’t going to pollinate, so now in a snit, she is not opening? Or do the dung beetles in the wild burrow in BEFORE the plant opens and the stink results from successful pollination? Just curious. Also, since you were talking about gasses – does all the carbon dioxide being breathed out by the multitude of visitors have any effect on her, or are you pumping additional oxygen in during the day to offset?
    Also, think you guys are doing a great job of dealing with all the arm chair quarterbacks!
    Thanks.

  8. That doesn’t answer her question at all. All you are doing is restating what was already written in the article, as if she is stupid. I say let her be and let nature take its course. Man is the reason why our ecosystem is pretty much screwed.

  9. You peeked under her skirt? I wish you hadn’t told us that you violated her chastity. For some reason it just seems less interesting now.

  10. I agree with Tori — don’t rush it. It’s far more interesting to see what she’ll do “naturally” (as natural as being out of her own environment can be). Don’t let the crowds and the media rush the process.

  11. Lois is not in a natural setting. She is in a museum in Houston, Texas, not Sumatra and she lives in a flower pot!. All you “experts” need to let the real experts do what they do. They want to give her every chance to open by doing what they can. I was there on thursday and all the museum staff are really going the extra mile…24 hour days and huge crowds every day. They deserve thanks, not criticism.

  12. Tori —

    I’d just like to point out that Lois’ entire life has been “helped along by man” — she was “bred” in captivity (cultivation). We’re not watching a flower bloom in its native Sumatra, it’s blooming in a greenhouse in Houston.

    I, for one, am blown away by the amazing care, attention and classiness of Zac and the entire Houston Museum of Natural Science team. They’ve brought her this far — I trust that they know what they’re doing, and can’t wait to see the results!

    K.

  13. I hope you are not trying to rush her blooming. I for one hope she opens on Monday (my birthday) rather than Saturday or Sunday when mega crowds are there.

  14. Why is it necessary to speed up the blooming process? The plant’s health? Money (visitors)?
    I just don’t understand? If visitors don’t get to see it bloom, too bad. it’s a risk you take. Let it happen naturally without a boost.

  15. So what if Lois got a little Marilyn Monroe breeze up her skirts? She’s a big girl and can handle a minor gynecological examination.

  16. I am sure (as a horticulturist) that Zac or any other museum staff would not do anything to Lois that would harm her. Haven’t you watched any of the videos? He LOVES that thing…. you can see it on his face.

  17. Lois should be left to do as she will. Quit manhandling her, literally. People will come to see/smell her, obviously, so you will still get your money. Jeebus, help these people leave well enough alone.

  18. Nice to see that the comments can be selectively deleted.

    Science or money? Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

  19. I think you should just leave the plant alone.I hope the ethylene gas doesn’t wilt the bloom before it opens.I hope Lois behaves differently from orchids. We grow orchids and buds and blooms can be sensitive to ethylene and wilt even before they open completely or droop prematurely.

    Fruits like bananas,mangos,pineapples,persimmons “ripen” quicker when exposed to
    ethylene gas but the taste is not as good as fruit ripened on the tree.I don’t
    know what the effect of ethylene is on the flowers of these plants.

    Hope those ripening fruits don’t infect and make Lois rot before she opens.
    Is that the advice of other botanical gardens which have successfully bloomed
    the Amorphophallus titanum? If so, I hope it works and haste doesn’t turn to waste. We don’t want an abortion. This is the first time it is blooming and we
    don’t blame anyone for prematurely predicting her blooming time.You’ve done well
    in taking care of this rare plant .Hope all these maneuvers don’t dehydrate or
    make it rot.

    Good luck and bless you for giving us a chance to see this rare and biggest flower!!!!!!!!!

  20. Here’s a list of blooms I found, mainly for the readers since probably the hmns would already know this stuff.

    http://botit.botany.wisc.edu/Titan_Arum_Archive/Archive_images/List_of_Data.html

    What’s clear from the list and from the comments about many of the blooms is that it isn’t guaranteed that the flower would open at all. It may never even try to bloom ever again. I say let Zac and crew do what they think is best, since they know more about this flower than anybody else.

    I bet horticulturists aren’t used to being under fire like this. We shouldn’t treat them as the personification of everything that’s wrong with the world. I’m just saying the language is a bit heavy for horticulturists! Horticulturists like learning about plants and caring for plants. I bet they spend hours at the garden center, after work, and on the weekends. I’ll bet when somebody asks “what species of plant is that?” they give them the latin name, and the people are like, “okay nevermind.” They probably have journals where they draw leaves and take measurements of things when everybody else is like, “dude, what are you doing? what are you graphing?”

  21. I forgot my question!

    when you opened the spathe to see the male and female flowers, like in the picture above, what can you tell us about the development of those structures? I read that the female structures mature first, and then the male structures. Are either or both fully mature? Are they matured to the point where this flower should be opened already?

  22. Hi Wes,

    We have comment moderation in place to prevent profane language, personal attacks and other things that might prevent this blog from being a forum for a civil, scientific discourse. Dissenting opinions are definitely welcome – as you’ll see from taking a look at most of the comments here. :) If you’d like more information, you can see our comment moderation policy here: http://blog.hmns.org/?page_id=23

  23. Was hoping she’d bloom for our visit today, but looks like she is still holding out (how like a woman LOL – says a woman). When she does really go get going blooming as in petals starting to come down, how long does it usually take for the bloom to fully open?

  24. Once Lois starts blooming, it will take 4 – 6 hours for the bloom to fully open. Of course, that’s what other corpse flowers have done – Lois has been totally unpredictable, and she’s definitely on her own timetable. :)

  25. As a horticulturalist myself, I can say that Zac is doing nothing that will harm Lois’ bloom. There are “tricks of the trade” applied to many different plants for many different reasons. The problem is that so many watchers who are unfamiliar with horticulture have, since Lois was given a name, given a human aspect to the plant. Lois is nothing more than that – a plant. It feels no pain, it doesn’t sulk and it isn’t going to seek revenge by not blooming. As Keith noted, some plants will occasionally produce a bloom that may never open. In my work I have experienced this myself and it can be frustrating when it happens.

    My hope is that all the attention given Lois will pique an interest in some to not just grow a few plants but a desire to learn more about a particular species of plant. Pick one species, care for and grow a few, monitor their growth, propagate new plants by its various means (cuttings, seed, grafting, etc.), and, most of all, research the species to learn more about it. And, if possible with the species chosen (i.e., a blooming plant), hybridize a few to create your own new varieties; a new plant and its bloom that no one except yourself has ever seen before. You may possibly fall in love with the species but will also come to realize that it’s a plant and nothing more.

    On a side note, Amorphophallus titanum is NOT the largest flower in the world. It IS the largest inflorescence (bloom structure, flowerhead) in the world. The largest single bloom award goes to Rafflesia arnoldii which can produce a 15 pound flower. It is also goes by the common name of corpse flower as it stinks to high heaven. These primitive plants have been around since the time before bees thus requiring flies and carrion beetles to pollinate them.

    Guess I got a load of my thoughts out of the way but I do have a question for Zak. Since the spadix of A. titanum begins to produce heat once the spathe begins to open will you be monitoring its temperature? Keep up the good work, Zac. You’ve put in some long days and nights. I’ll make it a point to meet you when I get there to see Lois in her full glory.

  26. Pro horticulturists and amateurs “force” nature all the time. We have no objections to forcing a Christmas cactus or poinsettia into bloom at specific times. Nobody blinks an eye at growing cultivars that would not exist without human intervention, and we don’t think twice about giving Mother Nature a helping hand when the human body needs assistance. Should a human be left to battle illness or injury “naturally” without intervention from other humans? Should we not take preventive medications to stave off disease or boost our own fertility? Why the big beef with HMNS giving Lois a little assistance? I’ll trust the pros on this question. They certainly have more education than I do and I can’t imagine they’re champing at the bit to do anything harmful to Lois.

    I have some questions if anyone can answer them. How is the corpse flower cultivated outside its natural habitat? What potting medium is used, how often must the corm be repotted and when? Does one begin with a huge pot or gradually increase the size as the corm enlarges? I can’t imagine what a job repotting must be! Does it prefer crowded root conditions in the wild too? What are the fertilizer, water, humidity and light requirements for these plants when grown inside? Does the leaf require support at maturity, and when is it removed when it goes dormant? Will HMNS eventually sell any of Lois’ seeds or corms to the public in the future? Yes, I have an inquiring mind. ;-)

  27. JayBay, I grow a couple of Amorph’s and maybe I can answer some of your questions.

    How is the corpse flower cultivated outside its natural habitat?
    Amorphophallus has male (pollen) and female (flower) parts at the base of the spadix. To prevent pollination of itself the female flowers open and close before its own pollen can be used. Then the pollen becomes active and is transferred to other blooming amorph’s female flowers. In a greenhouse situation pollen must be collected from one plant (usually on a camel hair brush) and brushed onto the female flowers of another. The pollen can be stored for future use when an amorph blooms at another time but I’m not familiar with how or of it can really be done with amorphs.

    What potting medium is used, how often must the corm be repotted and when? Does one begin with a huge pot or gradually increase the size as the corm enlarges?
    I use a well drained potting mix that I keep moist but not wet. Too wet all the time will rot the bulb. When small I start with a pot twice the width of the bulb. Some growers practice removing the bulb from the soil once once it goes dormant, storing them and repotting once new growth is showing.

    What are the fertilizer, water, humidity and light requirements for these plants when grown inside?
    They aren’t very picky. I feed mine a balanced fertilizer. Growing indoors is usually not successful as they require bright light, warmth and relatively high humidity.

    Does the leaf require support at maturity, and when is it removed when it goes dormant?
    No, each leaf easily supports itself. When a new leaf is new maturity the older leaf will droop and eventually die off. In the case of A. bulbifer (which I grow) a new bulb is produced at the top of the leaf stem where it branches out. The leaf is allowed to go through its desiccation before it is removed to assure that the new bulb reaches its maturity so that another new plant can be started.

    Will HMNS eventually sell any of Lois’ seeds or corms to the public in the future?
    I saw it stated somewhere that Lois will not be pollinated. Pollination could possibly cause her to close at a faster rate than if she is not. HMNS wants the public to have plenty of time to see Lois. Without pollination there will be no seeds produced.

    My answers are strictly what works for me from my experience and HMNS may offer differing advice.

  28. Steve, on Lois’ flickr page is a photo of the temperature readings, though it isn’t up to date. Erin, no luck getting a pic of the sign on display next to Lois?

    Also, do you have any earlier pictures that show the plant prior to the flower stalk, or does it grow underground until it blooms? Thanks!

  29. My daughters have had a wonderful time following Lois’ progress. They are six years old and are interested in everything “science.” The different things that Zac has been doing to help and monitor Lois have lead us to having some wonderful conversations about science, plants, why bugs are cool and the like.

    The museum has created a wonderful teaching moment here, and I hope that parents everywhere take advantage of it.

  30. I came across the Huntington Botanical Gardens site and they’ve had quite a bit of experience with their corpse flowers,

    http://www.huntington.org/huntingtonlibrary.aspx?id=4132

    they posted this handy growth chart from their most recent bloom …

    Image updated
    FRI, JUNE 4, 5:00 PM AT FULL BLOOM

    Track daily growth
    date height (ins.) change
    05/19/10 19.50
    05/20/10 21.50 +2.00
    05/21/10 22.00 +0.50
    05/22/10 23.75 +1.75
    05/23/10 25.75 +2.00
    05/24/10 27.25 +1.50
    05/25/10 30.00 +2.75
    05/26/10 31.50 +1.50
    05/27/10 33.75 +2.25
    05/28/10 35.25 +1.50
    05/29/10 38.00 +4.25
    05/30/10 39.50 +1.50
    05/31/10 41.00 +1.50
    06/01/10 42.25 +1.25
    06/02/10 43.00 +2.00
    06/03/10 44.00 +1.00
    06/04/10 45.00 +1.00

    and photos too …

  31. Thank you to all of you that have made it possible for us to follow and obsess over Lois! I trust you are doing a great job with her and I can’t wait to smell her!!!

  32. Looks like Keith reads my Twitter, I posted the link (http://botit.botany.wisc.edu/Titan_Arum_Archive/Index.html#anchor316167) since everyone kept asking so many questions about the corpse flower and about her cycle which provides a image of her life cycle along with facts and a archive of bloomings (which i’m not sure how accurate the blooming archive is but show good info)

    Zac you are doing a great job of taking care of Lois.

    Yes she is a plant that is not in her natural surroundings and different actions must take place to assure her that she will bloom healthfully. The best way i can explain this is through a metaphor I can give you which is a pregnant women. Sometimes the women passes her due date and no baby, and Doctors will try to induce the baby to come. Inducing does no harm, and if the baby doesn’t come out, it puts both the mother and the baby at a high risk. (sorry I’m a Nurse in training so i use what i know as example) For Lois here, they run the risk of her not wanting to actually open. Which i know everyone here would be greatly disappointed and if it does happen, Zac and the whole HMNS staff are not to blame… Its nature. (metaphor again) Some women sadly have stillborns. I really do hope that Lois will open up to all of us and show her grand beauty of her nature.

    Now for my question i have… I noticed Zac has not posted any of Lois’ growth status in the blog recently and was hoping to see if she is still growing? What has her temperature been? Has she started to release her odor? or is the hole in her backside releasing the odor already…? If Zac could please update us on her status I would be very happy! Thanks!

    Great Job HMNS
    and if you want to read my twitter its animezone10

  33. I agree with JayBay and Steve S. The HMNS staff have inspired a new generation of plant enthusiasts, great discussion, valuable educational moments, incredible opportunities to see something rare and beautiful. I also have a new appreciation for webcams and twitter. I personally don’t use twitter but the twitter noise on the webcam page keeps me up to date when I only have my droid to check on Lois. Plus, some of the twitter is funny. This is also bringing out creativity and inspiration from a wide range of talents and characters.

  34. Hi Jill – the Buttery Center is back open 24 hours a day now, so you can see Lois any time.

  35. ” Inducing does no harm, and if the baby doesn’t come out, it puts both the mother and the baby at a high risk. (sorry I’m a Nurse in training so i use what i know as example)”

    I’m sorry Anya but you are very, very wrong. Inducing does do harm. It makes me so sad that this is what is taught in school. It is the perfect analogy (pg mom) and it is exactly why it makes my stomach turn.

  36. Steve S – many thanks for the education! I also agree with your observation that the longer Lois holds off opening, the more people anthropomorphize her. Lois seems to be putting on two shows – one for herself and another for sociologists. ;-)

    My mother started growing orchids back in the early 1970’s with a cattleya seedling, Santa Rosa. I inherited most of her collection and have really enjoyed the opportunity to keep the family tradition going. Growing Mom’s orchids made me wonder if a bit of orchid bark in the bottom of a corpse flower pot would help keep the bulb dry? Is the natural limestone of Sumatra part of what keeps these giant bulbs from rotting in nature? Sorry – once I ask one question I can never seem to stop. Thanks again!

  37. Okay, so some of you people are NUTS! Look, mother nature is not perfect, like ever mother some times she needs help. There are so many plant that would not exist without human intervention, and those plant are required for certain ecosystems to maintain stability. Now where I think all the people comparing this PLANT to a mother are bonkers I would like to give you an analogy to think about. If a baby has it’s umbilical cord rapped around it’s neck do you push the baby out naturally and risk breaking his/her neck and the possibility of experiencing a still birth or do you opt for the unnatural c-section. It’s a plant, if you want so bad to have your opinion heard that you have to be negative about the care of a plant (by experts who went to school just as long as the experts who care for us humans), please go on a chat room or to a park and meet some people. It’s just sad.

  38. I agree with Realistic. I suggest that people look at photos of Trudy and Jack, of the same species of PLANTS, those photos indicated that the spadix started to shrivel in the blooming process. Although, Lois’s spadix looks skinnier and taller, it still shows the same shriveling as the others. It’s looking like something should happen soon. Zac and Team Zac, we love you man!

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