After 11 years of pollinations, dormancies and inflorescences, Binghamton University’s first corpse flower, Metis, was declared deceased in April.
The once 90-pound, 87-inch flower was dormant in 2016 and eventually became overrun by pathogens, making it impossible to save its final corm, a vital part of the plant that stores nutrients in times of dormancy.
The Amorphophallus titanum, or titan arum, is nicknamed the “corpse flower” because of the deathly smell it exudes when it inflorescences, or fully buds. Metis inflorescenced in 2010, 2013 and 2015. During each inflorescence, pollen was collected, which produced hundreds of seeds used to pollinate titan arums at the University of Hawaii, Ohio State University and Cornell University, according to Metis’ obituary on the E.W. Heier Teaching Greenhouse’s Facebook page.
The plant was donated in 2007 by John Kawamoto at the request of BU alumnus Werner Stiegler, ‘09. Kawamoto won three titan arum seeds in 2005 at an auction in Bali, Indonesia, which he then grew for two years before donating one to BU. Metis was the most mature of the three at the time. Stiegler nicknamed the plant after the Greek titan known in mythology for being wise and cunning.
Metis continued to grow within the E.W. Heier Teaching Greenhouse, where it grew from 4 to 40 pounds within a year. Its weight and the height of its flowers continuously fluctuated depending on how close it was to dormancy, which was logged throughout its lifetime.
After being dormant for two months, Metis inflorescenced in July 2015 for the third time, when it grew to its maximum height of 87 inches.
In 2016, concerns about soil-borne pathogens were raised because Metis was not terribly active. However, about two months later, it grew approximately a foot and appeared to be healthy again.
A year later, Metis’ main leaf died down as a result of its largest corm disintegrating, leaving one small corm remaining. Despite attempts to trim this final corm of pathogens, it dried out beyond saving and Metis was declared deceased.
Stiegler mentioned the challenges faced by titan arums within nature in Metis’ obituary, mentioning their low seed production, which can inhibit the propagation of the species.
“The titans are facing a huge amount of pressure in their native habitat,” Stiegler wrote. “Perhaps the presence of individuals such as Metis may be a mechanism to ensure high seed production among other plants. Any plant that is as active as Metis would not have the energy for significant seed production itself, but could ensure an abundance of pollen in a region … thereby preventing other plants from fading without being pollinated. Essentially a sacrifice for the good of the species.”
According to Laurie Bell, greenhouse manager, Metis’ death does not mean the end of its lineage.
“We have two offspring of Metis’ pollen crossed with Cornell’s Wee Stinky, and so the legacy continues,” Bell wrote in an email.
Wee Stinky is the titan arum of Cornell University, which was pollinated using the pollen collected from Metis during its second inflorescence. The greenhouse is now logging the cycles of these two Metis offspring, and may launch a naming contest in the future.