All of Houston has been fascinated by the saga of Lois the Corpse Flower, main attraction of the Houston Museum of Natural Science, throughout July. Lois has now collapsed without ever fully opening her magnificent blossom, although she did open enough to give the city the stink it had been waiting for. I'll leave it to the experts to figure out why she didn't open more fully. (Of course, I have a theory but why should they want to hear it?)
Reading about Lois and her family, though, brought some very interesting information to light for me.
Lois' scientific name, as most of the world probably knows by now, is Amorphophallus titanum, referring to the shape of her bud and its size. It is one of, if not the, biggest flowers in the plant world when it opens completely. It is related to such plants as calla lilies and taro. Its family name is Araceae and, in addition to having some of the biggest blossoms in the world, this family claims some of the smallest. What is perhaps the smallest of all is very common in the Houston area.
Here's proof. This is a picture taken at Brazos Bend State Park's Elm Lake a couple of weeks ago. That's a Green Heron hunting from a submerged log in the middle of the lake, but he is surrounded by a thick growth of duckweed that virtually covered the lake. The lake itself was a bowl of duckweed soup on that day. And duckweed, it turns out, is a relative of Lois and it has some of the smallest blossoms in the plant kingdom!
Here's a closer look at the plant:
Photo by Christian Fischer, courtesy of Catalogue of Organisms.
Each separate green dot on the two fingers in the picture is an individual plant, specifically Wolffia arrhiza, one of the duckweeds.
Duckweeds are obviously minute, individually, but they grow in uncountable profusion across the surfaces of many still bodies of water, of which we have thousands in Southeast Texas. The flowers of duckweed are correspondingly tiny and are produced only rarely, just like the Amorphophallus titanum. Duckweed mainly reproduces itself vegetatively.
So, the next time you visit a still body of water in the area and you see the green and growing garden on top of the water, remember Lois, and say "hello" to one of her littlest cousins.