What comes to your mind when you hear the word ‘flower’? You may get an idea about a beautiful, colorful, small, and aromatic thing. But unfortunately, when talking about the world’s largest flower, all the above things become opposite! ‘Rafflesia’, a family of 28 species is known as the largest individual flower on earth. In this article, I’m going to bring you some interesting facts about this unusual and amazing flower. So let’s continue!
# What is this ‘Rafflesia’?
As mentioned previously, Rafflesia is the world’s largest individual flower. In the Rafflesia family, there are 28 different species. Actually, Rafflesia is a parasite plant that does not have its own roots or stems. It grows attached to a host plant called Tetrastigma vine, which only grows in rain forests in South Asia. Rafflesia plants extract all the nutrients and water need for their growth from the host plants by inserting their appendages into the tissues of host plants.
Unlike most of the other flowers, Rafflesia is not capable of photosynthesis. Usually, it is very hard to detect these flowers in rain forests due as their buds look like some dark cabbage lying on the ground. Those buds take about a year to grow and bloom. It blooms with five red-orange color petals with little white spots on their looks like exposed flesh. The blooming phase lasts for about 5-7 days and during that time these flower emits a terrible odor with the smell of rotten meat!
# Why Rafflesia has this bad smell?
As mentioned above Rafflesia’s odor smells like rotten meat or rotten fish. The main purpose of this smell is to attract pollinators. We know that most of the flowers in the world attract bees and butterflies through their pleasant smells. But this Rafflesia attracts flies through their bad smell. Specifically, the blowflies called ‘Calliphora Vicina’ and ‘Lucilia Caesar’. And also in many countries, Rafflesia is known as ‘meat flower’ or ‘corpse flower’ because of this unpleasant smell.
Most of the Rafflesia species have both unisexual and bisexual flowers. It means those flowers can be male or female or both. As mature flowers only last 5 or 7 days, it is very important to distribute their kind. So the flies they attract from their rotten meat smell and their unisexual and bisexual properties help them to cross-pollinate with a nearby flower.
# How large is this Rafflesia?
Rafflesias are usually grown up to 1 meter wide. The biggest Rafflesia ever found belonged to the Rafflesia Arnoldii species. It weighed 11 kilograms and was 106 centimeters wide. Rafflesia is an endemic flower to Southeast Asian countries like the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand. In Indonesia, Rafflesia is considered the official state flower because of its rarity and uniqueness of it. Rafflesia Arnoldii is the commonly found Rafflesia in there and known as “Pupsa Langka”.
# A festival to celebrate Rafflesia!
Can you believe that Rafflesia is a celebratory flower? Yeah, that’s true. In Antique province in Philippines, people celebrate the Rafflesia flower during Binirayan Festival every December. The main reasons for this are their rarity and being one of the tourist attractions in Antique province. The first Rafflesia was founded by a French naturalist called Louis Deschamps in Indonesia during 1791-1794.
# Why this big flower is rare?
Rafflesia only grows in the middle of dark rainforests. Even though there are plenty of flowers, it is hard to access them. So it is very difficult to do research about this flower and also most of these Rafflesia species have been discovered by accidents. The most important thing that affects the Rafflesia population is the number of healthy Tetrastigma Vine trees in the area. These flowers usually produce millions of seeds. But only about 10% of them survive.
During the last decade, people tried to cultivate these flowers in a garden or a laboratory, but no one has succeeded yet. Rafflesia is a very sensitive plant. There are many reasons cause to reduce the Rafflesia population such as deforestation, natural forest fires, and frequent tourist visits. So some countries have introduced new laws and are conducting researches to protect these amazing plants.
# What are the different species of this flower?
Well, there are 28 different species of this plant. As it is very difficult to talk about all of these species, I’m going to bring you some information about several species of Rafflesia. Let’s take a look at them.
#1 Rafflesia Arnoldii
This is the largest member of the Rafflesia family. This flower was named ‘Arnoldii’ to remember Dr. James Arnold, a surgeon naturalist who participated in expeditions with Sir Thomas in 1818.
#2 Rafflesia Schadenbergiana
This species was found by Alexander Shadenberg, a naturalist in 1882. This is the second-largest Rafflesia flower in the world. This species is usually found in regions like Laguna, Antique, Kalinga, Quirino, and Quezon.
#3 Rafflesia Hasseltii
This species was found by Mr. Van Hasselt in the Kerinci Seblat National Park in Sumatra Island, Indonesia. So this flower is named after him. He also found about the healing power of the extract of this flower. He found that wounds that are treated with Rafflesia extract healed faster than the ones which are not treated with it.
#4 Rafflesia Baletei
This is another common species of the Rafflesia family. The important thing about this species is, these flowers are bisexual. It means they can function as a female or a male flower. All other species are unisexual. It means they have only one sex.
#5 Rafflesia Manillana
This is one of the smallest species in the Rafflesia family and has a 20 centimeters wide flower.
#6 Rafflesia Consueloae
This is the smallest Rafflesia species founded in the Philippines in 2016. This was found by a biologist team from the University of Philippines. According to them, this flower is only 10 centimeters wide when it is fully bloomed. Actually, it is same sized as a baseball!