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Rafflesia – Queen of Parasites and the Biggest Flower on Earth

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Livingsta is a writer who writes about anything that fascinates, provokes or interests her, always putting forth her best effort and focus.

Rafflesia arnoldii, the flower may be over 100 centimetres in diameter, and weigh up to 10 kilograms

Rafflesia arnoldii, the flower may be over 100 centimetres in diameter, and weigh up to 10 kilograms

Rafflesia is the world’s largest flower which belongs to the genus of parasitic flowering plants. Rafflesia is the official state flower of Indonesia, the Sabah state in Malaysia, and also for the SuratThaniProvince, Thailand.This flower was discovered in the Indonesian rain forest by an Indonesian guide working for Dr. Joseph Arnold in 1818. it was named after Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, the leader of the expedition. These rare flowers are found in southeastern Asia in the forests of the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak, in the rainforests of Indonesia, Borneo and the Philippines. It contains approximately 29 species out of which four are not completely recognised species.

Different Species of Rafflesia-Part I

Different species of Rafflesia-Part II

It is a parasitic plant, with no visible leaves, roots, or stem. It attaches itself to a host plant to obtain water and nutrients. The plant produces no leaves, stems or roots and does not contain chlorophyll and are therefore incapable of photosynthesis. It is an endoparasite of vines spreading its roots inside the tissue of the vine to obtain water and nutrients. It is totally dependant upon a vine called Tetrastigma, which is related to the grapevine. The only part of the plant that can be seen outside the host vine is the five-petaled flower.When in bloom; the Rafflesia emits a foul odour, similar to that of rotting meat which gives this flower its local names which mean corpse flower or meat flower. This odour attracts insects such as flies and carrion beetles, which transport pollen from male to female flowers. The Rafflesiaarnoldii, may be over 100 centimetres in diameter, and weigh up to 10 kilograms (22 lb).

rafflesia-queen-of-parasites-and-the-biggest-flower-on-earth

The Rafflesia can only be seen when it is ready to reproduce. At this stage a tiny bud forms on the stem of the vine which develops for a period of about a year (9 to 12 months) resembling a cabbage. This cabbage-like bud will open up to reveal the massive 5-petaled flower. The flower has a spiked disk to which stamens and pistils are attached, which develop into a fruit with seeds. The flowers sit on the forest floor and are unisexual either male or female. The center of the flowers contains numerous spikes and also holds several gallons of nectar. The fruit produced by Rafflesia is round and about 15cm in diameter. It is filled with smooth flesh and thousands of tiny hard coated seeds. The fleshy fruit attracts squirrels and tree shrews which are the main distributors of the seeds.

rafflesia-queen-of-parasites-and-the-biggest-flower-on-earth

Rafflesia Flower

rafflesia-queen-of-parasites-and-the-biggest-flower-on-earth

Pollination in Rafflesia is a rare due to several factors. the flowers are unisex and same sex plants are found near to each other. For pollination to be successful, the insect pollinators have to visit both male and female plants. Both sex flowers are not only far from each other, but they also have to open and be mature at the same time. While male and female individuals could be closely spaced, flower bud mortality is 80-90 % per site thereby reducing the chance of co-flowering of two individuals. Apart from this, to make things complicated the flowers last less than a week (5 to 7 days), leaving a narrow time frame window of opportunity for pollination.

rafflesia-queen-of-parasites-and-the-biggest-flower-on-earth

There have been several challenges in studying the rafflesia for 190 years now since its discovery. The reasons behind this are:

  1. Rafflesia grows entirely embedded within the body of the host plant that they parasitize, and are only visible when they erupt from within the host body as a flower bud. Although other means of studying Rafflesia, like anatomical sectioning, could be performed, this method would likely result in death of both the host and parasite.
  2. Rafflesia is rare in occurrence and can only be found in remote lowland forests of Southeast Asia. Much of its habitat in these regions have been converted to farm land or timber concessions and in some parts of its range, the buds are harvested and sold for their intended medicinal qualities.
  3. Rafflesia become visible as flowers, and only survives a few days before decomposing.
rafflesia-queen-of-parasites-and-the-biggest-flower-on-earth

The Largest Flower in the World

A very rare sight of a triple bloom of Rafflesia

A very rare sight of a triple bloom of Rafflesia

All of these factors make it difficult to even find Rafflesiasites. Residents in Malaysia are encouraged to save the flowers on their private property, and are encouraged to charge small entrance fees to see the flower. This little income goes a long way in conserving the flowers. These buds are seen as a sign of fertility, and are given to help mothers recover after birth. The over collection of these buds in the aim of helping with conservation efforts has only reduced the number of Rafflesia in the wild drastically. All these factors lead to decreasing numbers of Rafflesia.

rafflesia-queen-of-parasites-and-the-biggest-flower-on-earth
It shows a box full of Rafflesia (probably R. cantleyi) buds that are sold in markets for various medicinal purposes.  This practice severely impacts local Rafflesia populations where reproduction is often limited.

It shows a box full of Rafflesia (probably R. cantleyi) buds that are sold in markets for various medicinal purposes. This practice severely impacts local Rafflesia populations where reproduction is often limited.

Many species of Rafflesia are vulnerable to deforestation and development and becomes more threatened. The beginning stages of conservation call for finding, monitoring and protecting the flowers that appear. Conservationists are hoping that complete habitat protection will come, but there is no sign of complete habitat protection in the near future.

Different species of Rafflesia

To read about the different species of Rafflesia, please check the links below.

.Different Species of Rafflesia-Part I

Different species of Rafflesia-Part II

Comments

livingsta (author) from United Kingdom on January 06, 2016:

Hello Gocats65, thank you so much for reading and sharing this story behind r. meijeri. I did read about this species now again. Sorry for not responding earlier. Thank you again for sharing this valuable information. Have a great 2016! :)

Gocats65 on November 22, 2013:

I took a plant biology class at the University of Kentucky in 1984. The professor was Dr. Willem Meijer. He told the story of tramping through the jungle in Borneo for weeks in search of rafflesia. At one point he heard a native guide laughing and repetitive chopping sounds. Upon investigation he was mortified to find the hacked up remains of a rafflesia bloom. The guide had merry time destroying it because it smelled bad thus depriving Dr. Meijer of studying one of the rare events of a fully blooming flower. Eventually the species r. meijeri was named after him in honor of his work.

livingsta (author) from United Kingdom on September 19, 2013:

Hi Radhikasree, thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts and experiences. I am glad that you found this interesting. Thank you for the votes and share :-)

Radhika Sreekanth from Mumbai,India on September 19, 2013:

This post reminded me of my school days when we learned about the world's largest, smallest parasitic flowers. A fascinating hub with interesting details behind it.

Voted up, useful and interesting. Shared too!

livingsta (author) from United Kingdom on April 14, 2013:

Hi Jonnycomelately, thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts. Yes, what you've said is true! I am glad you liked it. Have a good day!

jonnycomelately on April 14, 2013:

Fascinating and beautiful plant. Contrast this with one of the world's smallest flowering plants, Wolffia borealis, 2-3mm long!

livingsta (author) from United Kingdom on April 14, 2013:

Hi Sneha, thank you for reading. I am glad you found this interesting. What you say is correct, we need to save our planet from all these destruction. A lot of damage has been done, and our planet was prettier before than it is now! Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I appreciate it.

Have a good day :-)

livingsta (author) from United Kingdom on April 14, 2013:

Hi Natashalh, yes a real huge one. It does look alien especially due to it's size and features, doesn't it? I am pleased that you enjoyed the pictures. Have a good day! :-)

livingsta (author) from United Kingdom on April 14, 2013:

Hi CZCZCZ, thank you for reading and I am pleased you found this interesting and useful. Have a good day! :-)

livingsta (author) from United Kingdom on April 14, 2013:

Thank you Londonlady for reading and the votes. I am glad you liked it! Have a good day :-)

livingsta (author) from United Kingdom on April 14, 2013:

Hi Anamika, thank you for reading. I am pleased you liked it! Have a good day :-)

livingsta (author) from United Kingdom on April 14, 2013:

Thank you so much Rajan, for reading, voting and sharing. I am glad you found it interesting.

livingsta (author) from United Kingdom on April 14, 2013:

Hi Mr-Veg, thank you for reading. Wow, so you've seen it. Great, I would love to see it once too :-)

Have a good day!

Sneha Sunny from India on April 14, 2013:

Interesting hub with really interesting pictures! So much to learn here. :) Didn't knew this much about this rare flower.

Deforestation is the mother of all the extinction-related problems for "all" the species! We need to use forests in a compensatory way so that our planet remains beautiful forever, as it is now.

Thanks for sharing! :)

Natasha from Hawaii on April 13, 2013:

I've heard about this flower before, but seeing pictures of it is always crazy! It's such a huge, wacky looking flower. I always feel like it belongs in some movie about aggressive alien life forms!

CZCZCZ from Oregon on April 13, 2013:

These are really wild looking flowers. It was very cool to read through this article, lots of really good information. I loved all the pictures that were compiled here, really provided a lot of great visuals.

Lali Writes on April 13, 2013:

Wow, creepy and cool at the same time. Voted up!

Anamika S Jain from Mumbai - Maharashtra, India on April 13, 2013:

Wow! Never seen one before. Thanks for sharing!

Rajan Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on April 13, 2013:

What a beautiful flower and a very interesting read.

Voted up, awesome and shared.

mr-veg from Colorado United States on April 13, 2013:

Yeah when I saw that in a zoo few years back I was amazed to see a flower so big :) thanks for sharing the useful information !!!

livingsta (author) from United Kingdom on September 24, 2012:

@Mayuri, thank you for stopping by. This feature is to attract pollinators! That is how these species survive!

mayuri on September 22, 2012:

why this flower is strinks

livingsta (author) from United Kingdom on September 16, 2012:

Thank you for stopping by Ellsam

ellsam blaido on September 15, 2012:

this rafflesia flower is the biggest flower in hole world.and thank you for studiying this or seeing this.and this rafflesia flower is very odor.and rafflesia become visible as flowers and only survives a few days before decomposing.and rafflesia can only be seen when it is ready to reproduce.

livingsta (author) from United Kingdom on September 07, 2012:

Thank you Gester

gester on September 06, 2012:

its amzing

qisha on June 08, 2012:

what a big flower....awesome,,,it's wonderful

praveena on May 25, 2012:

it is so beautiful flower

chinu on April 27, 2012:

grt flr !!!

kavfga on April 02, 2012:

woow, it is such a wonderful flower and has a own character attracting others attension.

livingsta (author) from United Kingdom on March 10, 2012:

Thank you Shazz!

Shazzbomb2323 on March 09, 2012:

this is really cool and really quality info

wooowwwww!!!

livingsta (author) from United Kingdom on February 26, 2012:

Thank you William !

William Kluge on November 08, 2011:

love it

livingsta (author) from United Kingdom on February 20, 2011:

Thank you Blissfulwriter for the info !

livingsta (author) from United Kingdom on February 20, 2011:

Thank you Jessica

BlissfulWriter on February 13, 2011:

That is scary looking flower. It looks like it can swallow a person. Although, the rafflesia may be the largest, the tallest flower is the "corpse flower" https://hubpages.com/hub/Corpse-Flower-is-Worlds-T...

jessica on February 03, 2011:

i am well??????? lol jus lov this plant and its very rare to lolz!!!!!!!!!! this plant has something in it

jessica on February 03, 2011:

i just love this beautiful flower because of it's made and also you know that this plant is a parasite OMG!!!!!!!!!

livingsta (author) from United Kingdom on October 15, 2010:

Thank you, and you are most welcome (unknown) :)

unknown on October 12, 2010:

its very interesting to know about this.thanks for this information on rafflesia,the biggest flower

thank u very much

livingsta (author) from United Kingdom on December 14, 2009:

Yes Gaurav, there is another flower, which is really big, called the "TITAN ARUM" with the largest unbranched inflorescence in the world, but it does not resemble rafflesia, which is the largest single flower in the world. However, it has certain features, similar to that of rafflesia, like smell of rotten meat, etc. The titan arum grows in the wild only in the equatorial rainforests of Sumatra, Indonesia. I wonder if this helps ?

livingsta (author) from United Kingdom on December 14, 2009:

Yes Rloc...its an amazing flower. I wish to see it once in my lifetime....thank you for the comments

livingsta (author) from United Kingdom on December 14, 2009:

Thank you misty , for dropping a few words :)

G on December 11, 2009:

Sorry its "flower".

Gaurav on December 11, 2009:

hey do you know any other folwer,not exactly of this dimensions but looks like it..coz i have seen it in my village and it also doesn't have any roots,stems and leaves.

but anyway really appreciate the info provided..you are really into nature.

regards

Gaurav

rloc on November 10, 2009:

this flower is amazing and deserves to be preserved

MISTY on November 07, 2009:

THAT IS COOL! ^_^ I LOVE THIS PLANT! it is a beautiful plant!

livingsta (author) from United Kingdom on October 30, 2009:

Thanks Giirii

giirii on October 29, 2009:

wooww

livingsta (author) from United Kingdom on October 08, 2009:

Yes cossette, i was inspired reading about it..there are so many fascinationg things like this in nature

cosette on October 07, 2009:

ok, that is a formidable flower! fascinating...

pinkhawk from Pearl of the Orient on October 07, 2009:

wow Queenie Rafflesia..10 kilograms- I can only carry one and maybe with a mask also? (because of its foul odor)hmm..but by looking at the pictures and appreciating it, i think it is also beautiful and attractive in its own way...:).. this is really interesting, i learned something new..thank you for sharing ma'am/sir?...

livingsta (author) from United Kingdom on October 07, 2009:

i know, i can imagine what you feel. I have heard about these flowers while at school, but haven't read about them completely. But after reading i thought that i would share it on hubpages. thanks a lot for your comment Zsuzsy !!!

Zsuzsy Bee from Ontario/Canada on October 07, 2009:

Wow that's quite the flower. Thanks for sharing this. I had never heard of it before and am having a hard time picturing a bloom that huge for one and then the foul smell of rotting meat yuk.

really great hub

regards Zsuzsy