Dr. Irene Terry, from the University of Utah, is an expert on the pollination biology of cycads. Her recent work looks closely at the mutual relationship between cycads and their pollinators.

Through innovative methods, Dr. Terry has advanced our understanding of how cycads attract pollinators, and has brought to light aspects of cycads cone biology. Cones of the genus Cycas produce abundant volatile compounds, which give them sometimes very distinctive fragrances. Some can be described as suggesting licorice or pineapple odors. Additionally, the cones heat up significantly during the reproductive phase, which facilitates attracting the pollinators.

Quoting from Dr. Terry’s recent research: “the reproductive organs of some plants self-heat, release scent, and attract pollinators. The relations among these processes are not well understood, especially in the more ancient, nonflowering gymnosperm lineages.”

Over the last week, Dr. Terry has been gathering data on temperature and chemistry of Cycas collections here at MBC, as part of her work with Dr. Tom Marler at the University of Guam. Working with Claudia Calonje, MBC Collections Specialist, Dr. Terry reviewed the phenology data to time her research visit to coincide with pollen shedding of many Cycas cones.

This use of MBC living collections for pollination biology continues an important field of study here. For many years, cycads were assumed to be wind pollinated. In recent decades, the pollination of cycads by weevils and beetles was thoroughly documented on plants growing on the MBC grounds.

Dr. Terry states, “it is a great advantage to have a living collection of so many cycad species at one location to compare cone traits that are key to their reproductive biology.”