July 23rd, 2010

weed whacker

Lois the corpse flower

So she finally bloomed.

For over two weeks now, people around here have been going a little insane over Lois. Lois is six years old, and resides at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. In early July, it looked like Lois was going to bloom, and the frenzy began.

Lois is a Corpse Flower. Apparently they smell like rotting flesh when in full bloom. And apparently, only 26 have bloomed in the US. Another one is set to bloom somewhere in Minnesota.

At first, it was a few newspaper articles. Then a Twitter feed. Then a webcam. Facebook page. ect. Then the museum started staying open 24 hours so people could go over and check out the exact moment she bloomed. #corpseflower became a trending topic on Twitter. The horticulturalist at the museum became a mini celebrity.

And then she lingered. For days. The museum started the "she's about to bloom" hype right after the fourth of July. And the longer this thing has been going on, the more people have hopped into the frenzy. Sure, there's been skepticism and thumb twiddling and parody. But by and large, it's been pretty much build up.

So last night or this morning or at some point in the last 24 hours or so, the museum hit payoff.

And now that the plant is in full stink, the lines are even longer than they were when she was in the tease phase.
The six-foot tall, phallus-like, hermaphrodite plant finally sent her unpleasant odor wafting through the halls of the Houston Museum of Natural Science around 3 a.m. this morning. Fortunately, the live web feed was up and running, so the crowds began flocking instantly. One museum rep, Steven Cowan, estimated that they sold nearly 3,000 tickets by mid-morning. For a museum pool, Cowan guessed that over 11,000 will come through the front doors today to get a sight and whiff of Lois.

On an average weekend day, HMNS will see 1,000 to 2,000 visitors.

"She's become a bigger deal than we ever expected," said Nancy Greig, director of the Cockrell Butterfly Center, where Lois currently resides.

As for the smell? It's a mix between fuzzy lasagna, days-old tuna and wilted lettuce -- so, the office refrigerator.

Zac Stayton, the HMNS semi-celebrity horticulturalist, had a different description: "It's like rotten, wet, musty laundry and a bait shop.

"When I got here this morning around six, the smell was unbearable," Stayton said. "It turned my stomach. I had to step out every now and then to get some air."

Around lunchtime, patrons were waiting as long as an hour to set foot in the same room with Lois. As they got closer to where the plant was situated, the heat increased and the smell got funkier. Museum staff had to up the temperature around the plant to the mid-80s and add a humidifier to recreate a rainforest-like environment, where Lois' species, amorphophallus titanium, typically reside.

The "Stink-O-Meter" was set at 8 of 10. One woman even brought empty glass jars and what looked like a turkey baster, trying to bottle the smell and mail it to her 13-year-old nephews.

But that wasn't the only odd behavior. One anonymous individual sent Stayton and the museum staff a bunch of cigars with a note: "It's a BLOOM!" The Houston School of Floral Design brought a lei, and another fan brought a yellow rose.

This is a weird town.