Fall 2010

Be glad you can’t smell it

Feature Image
The corpse flower is shown here nearly in full bloom.

Nasty. Vile. Stinky. No insults here, just the awful truth about a happy event: the blooming of the rare corpse flower in the E.W. Heier Teaching and Research Greenhouse.

When titan arum opened into full bloom in September, it was stunning not only in color and size (the flower is over 5 feet tall) but in smell. The odor has been compared to rotting flesh, but that didn’t prevent people from waiting in line to see the unusual tropical specimen and test their ability to withstand its scent. The bloom lasted just a few hours before it began to fade.

The tuber was grown in Hawaii from a seed that came from Indonesia. Its donation to Binghamton in 2007 was arranged by alumnus Werner Stiegler ’09, who called it “Metis,” in honor of the Greek Titan goddess of learning and teaching.

When Metis was sent to Binghamton University in 2007, it weighed just over 4 pounds and measured 8 inches in diameter. In spring 2008 it produced a fair-sized leaf. But it really seemed to like its surroundings because by the time Metis went into dormancy later that year, it weighed a whopping 40 pounds and measured 24 inches in diameter.

In 2009, Metis again produced a leaf — this time one measuring 10 feet high and 10 feet wide. But producing such a large leaf took its toll, and when Metis entered its dormancy period at the end of April 2010, it tipped the scales at just 30 pounds. Only four months later Metis was back, producing its first flower at the ripe old age of 5.

Typically titan arums are “teenagers” when they begin to bloom — flowering at this young age indicates that Metis could be fairly advanced for its age. It is unknown when the University community will see and smell another blossom; typically the plants bloom so infrequently that it can be a decade or more between flowerings.