July 16, 2010 / 5:55 PM / 7 years ago

Rare stinking flower draws U.S. crowds

HOUSTON (Reuters Life!) - Thousands of people are breathlessly waiting for one of the largest and rarest flowers in the world to bloom. But when Lois the Corpse Flower finally unfurls, they may want to hold their breath.

<p>Visitors line up at the Houston Museum of Natural Science to catch a glimpse, and a whiff, of the rare Corpse Flower, which emits a carrion-like stench when it blooms to attract pollinating insects July 15, 2010. REUTERS/Alyson Zepeda</p>

This will be the first time the seven-year-old plant has produced the stinking flower for which it is named, and the bloom is expected to last for only three days.

After that, Lois might never bloom again, said Zac Stayton, a horticulturist with the Houston Museum of Natural Science, where the 5.6 foot plant is the star attraction.

“This is huge. This is one of the biggest attractions we’ve ever had here,” Stayton said.

The flower has its own web cam and Twitter feed and the museum has stayed open 24 hours a day to accommodate visitors.

Lois, which will be the 29th of its kind to bloom in the United States, smells like a molding pumpkin in pre-bloom state, Stayton explained. But it will soon emit a powerful stench like rotting meat meant to attract flies for pollination.

The 4,000 to 5,000 visitors a day are disappointed that the flower doesn’t stink yet, said Latha Thomas, vice president of marketing and communications for the museum.

“They want to smell the flower. I think that’s why they keep coming back over and over because they are so excited about smelling it,” Thomas said.

The museum is expecting up to 10,000 visitors on Saturday and Sunday as excitement mounts, dwarfing the usual 500 to 600 visitors per day before Lois began to flower.

Koiula Lau, her mother Gwen Lau and their friend Elizabeth Menezes have been watching Lois over the live-feed webcam for over a week. Although they were disappointed by the lack of stench, they sported “Team Lois” buttons and were some of the first to buy Corpse Flower T-shirts.

“We figured this is a rare opportunity and we need to come and see it,” said Gwen Lau.

Despite the rarity of the plant due to deforestation of Indonesia’s West Sumatra Province, the flower is not going to be pollinated. Stayton said the stress might kill the plant, which could cause the bloom to close faster.

Editing by Chris Baltimore and Patricia Reaney

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