The Reeking, Rotting Rafflesia

 

Did you know there is a species of plant that is huge and smells like a rotting corpse?

This is not your typical flower, and you will never see it in a bouquet. Plus, there are 28 species of this particularly putrid plant and all of them smell!

The Rafflesia (rah-FLEEZ-ee-ah), also known as the meat or corpse flower starts off like a brown, cabbage-like lump. Once it is in full bloom, it is 3 feet across (0.9 meters), and can weigh up to 36 pounds (16.3 kilograms)!  

It is also a parasite. In fact, the Rafflesia is called the “Queen of Parasites.” Unlike 234bdd7f2207be0756b2e28519852e3dother plants that need roots, stems, and leaves to survive, the rafflesia grows from a host vine (the tetrastigma) where it gathers its nutrients.

The Big Stinker

The arnoldii species of rafflesia, found in Sumatra, is the biggest known flower in the world. Each blossom has five meat-red, fleshy petals with white or cream-colored spots. These spots look like itchy, raised mosquito bites.

If you were brave enough to peer deep inside this flower, you would see a round disk with plump spikes poking from it. But hold your nose cause this beauty reeks.

The Stinky Trickster

Why do you think the rafflesia smells so bad?

a) to attract flies?

b) to help spread its pollen?

c) to survive?

If you guessed all three, you’re right!

When the Rafflesia is in full bloom swarms of flies are attracted to its odor. But once inside of it, they get covered in globs of stinky, smelly goo.  

imagesThe female fly also thinks this may be a great place to lay her eggs, so the larvae can feed on it once they have hatched. But she’s wrong. The rafflesia is tricking her.

As the swarm of flies wanders around inside the flower, pollen is getting stuck to their feet and back. When they leave to visit another rafflesia (perhaps one even more stinky), the pollen will be deposited into that new flower. This is how the rafflesia reproduces.  

Once the new pollinated seeds begin to grow and mature, small animals such as squirrels and tree-shrews eat and spread the seeds around the forest floor. These seeds now have a chance to become big, reeking, piles of fleshy petals, too.

Numbers are Dwindling

Unfortunately, due to deforestation in the jungles of Southeast Asia and tourism, the Rafflesia is now considered endangered. If the fragile buds get damaged, the big stinker doesn’t have a chance to mature or spread its seeds.

However, Eco-tourism is now helping to protect this smelly plant. 

Categories: Nature

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