Rafflesia

The meat flower

The largest flower on Earth attracts flies and other insects with the enticing aroma of rotting flesh.
What?
Rafflesia is a genus of parasitic flowering plants. It contains 15-19 species, all found in Southeastern Asia. They have no leaves and hardly any stem, just a huge, leathery, speckled five-petalled flower.

The flowers have a penetrating, repulsive smell like rotting meat and many of its local names translate as ‘corpse flower’. The Rafflesia plant is itself not visible until the reproduction stage when flowers first bud through the woody vine and then open into the magnificent spectacle that is world-renowned today.

Why?
Rafflesia arnoldii is the largest individual flower on earth. The flower can have a diameter of up to 106 cm. and can weigh up to 10 kg. Although technically a member of the plant kingdom, Rafflesia challenges traditional definitions of what a plant is because it lacks chlorophyll and is therefore incapable of photosynthesis.

Likened to fungi, individuals grow as thread-like strands of tissue completely embedded within and in intimate contact with surrounding host cells from which nutrients and water are obtained. Rafflesia is totally dependant upon a vine called Tetrastigma, which is related to the grapevine.

Your chances of seeing one in the wild
These spectacular plants are found only in peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra, Java, southern Thailand, Borneo and southern Philippines. All known species of Rafflesia are threatened or endangered.

Most species are highly localised and are therefore vulnerable to extinction because of habitat disturbance and host cutting from activities such as land clearing, logging, and ethnobotanical collecting.
Rafflesia pricei just opened to full flower. / ©: WWF-Canon / Gerald S. CUBITT
Rafflesia pricei just opened to full flower.
© WWF-Canon / Gerald S. CUBITT

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