A plant that has no leaves, no roots, no stem and the biggest flower in the world is sure to evoke a lot of curiosity!
Sir Stamford Raffles described Rafflesia arnoldii as perhaps the largest and most magnificent flower in the world when he discovered it in 1818 along with his companion, surgeon-naturalist Dr James Arnold. The flower was modestly named after them!
With an all-time record breaking bloom of 106.7 centimeters (3ft 6 in) diameter and 11 kilograms weight, the jungle parasite of south-east Asia has petal-like lobes which are an inch thick.
Rafflesia is one of the rarest plants in the world and is on the verge of extinction.
Apart from its size and rarity, Rafflesia is also infamous for being the world’s most distasteful plants. It smells like rotting meat or dung.
Resembling the shape of a pot, the flower is flanked by five lurid red-brick and spotted cream ‘petals’, welcoming carrion flies hungry for detritus. The plant, which is found in the few pockets of Sumatra, Borneo, Thailand and the Philippines, is facing serious threat from reckless human activities and its own infernal biology.
Conditions are not really in favor of ‘Rafflesia’. Its seeds are finding it difficult to germinate. They have been parasitizing just one sort of vine all along their lives. This is being dubbed as a ridiculous approach to life, without the vine the plant is dead!
After consistent/persistent parasitism, the plant finally breaks out as a flower bud. It swells up for several years and eventually bursts into flowers. Sadly, the flower only lasts a few days, it will be forced to mate quickly with a nearby flower of the opposite sex. Since the male and female flowers are rare, it’s literally a miracle to find a couple who are ready to cross-pollinate with each other.
However, Rafflesia has to be credited for ‘eating’ so well and ultimately producing monstrous flowers.
Due to the cutting down of tropical forests, the ‘vine’ which Rafflesia feeds on is fast disappearing, so are the plants themselves! The danger is real!
Overall, there are at least 13 species of Rafflesia. Records suggest that two of them have already been unsighted/ have become extinct since the Second World War. So far, Rafflesia has never been cultivated in a garden or laboratory.
There has been rising demands for setting up research centers and for introducing laws for protecting the largest and one of the rarest flowers in the world! Countries including Malaysia and other SE Asian countries have already taken several measures for conserving the unique plant!
Since the plant is widely used as a traditional remedy in Southeast Asia, illegal collectors are a major threat to its existence. Rafflesia is used for treating severe internal injuries and infertility. The plants are often sold for a huge price.
Only a small percentage of flowers bloom, and they only last for a few days.
Rafflesia only parasites on certain species.
Sex Ratio Disproportion
Male rafflesia plants tend to outnumber females by a considerable margin. Very rarely does the male and female Rafflesia bloom close enough to facilitate pollination.
Since the rainforest area in SE Asia is under threat, the natural habitat of the plant is diminishing.
Sumatra, Borneo, Thailand and the Philippines.