Rafflesia – Queen of Parasites and the Biggest Flower on Earth

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
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Rafflesia the biggest flower on earthRafflesia ciliata
Rafflesia the biggest flower on earth
Rafflesia the biggest flower on earth | Source
Rafflesia ciliata
Rafflesia ciliata

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

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Rafflesia arnoldiiRafflesia borneensis
Rafflesia arnoldii
Rafflesia arnoldii
Rafflesia borneensis
Rafflesia borneensis

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).

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Flower bud, in a later stage of opening.Flower bud, with scales still unexpanded
Flower bud, in a later stage of opening.
Flower bud, in a later stage of opening.
Flower bud, with scales still unexpanded
Flower bud, with scales still unexpanded

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.

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Section through a male flower of Rafflesia.
Section through a male flower of Rafflesia.
Section through a male flower of Rafflesia.

Rafflesia Flower

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Side view of the disk from a dissected flowerTop view of the disk showing the processesView from inside a Rafflesia flower
Side view of the disk from a dissected flower
Side view of the disk from a dissected flower
Top view of the disk showing the processes
Top view of the disk showing the processes
View from inside a Rafflesia flower
View from inside a Rafflesia flower

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.

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Closer view of the flower showing the diaphragm surrounding the floral openingClose-up of the perigone lobe showing the patternClose-up view of two Rafflesia anthers dehiscing the pollen in a sticky fluid.
Closer view of the flower showing the diaphragm surrounding the floral opening
Closer view of the flower showing the diaphragm surrounding the floral opening
Close-up of the perigone lobe showing the pattern
Close-up of the perigone lobe showing the pattern
Close-up view of two Rafflesia anthers dehiscing the pollen in a sticky fluid.
Close-up view of two Rafflesia anthers dehiscing the pollen in a sticky fluid.

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.

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.

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

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Comments 55 comments

livingsta profile image

livingsta 8 months ago from United Kingdom Author

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 2 years ago

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 profile image

livingsta 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

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 :-)


radhikasree profile image

radhikasree 3 years ago from Mumbai,India

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 profile image

livingsta 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

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 profile image

jonnycomelately 3 years ago from Tasmania

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


livingsta profile image

livingsta 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

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 profile image

livingsta 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

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 profile image

livingsta 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

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


livingsta profile image

livingsta 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

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


livingsta profile image

livingsta 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

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


livingsta profile image

livingsta 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

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


livingsta profile image

livingsta 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

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 profile image

Sneha Sunny 3 years ago from India

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! :)


Natashalh profile image

Natashalh 3 years ago from Hawaii

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 profile image

CZCZCZ 3 years ago from Oregon

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.


Londonlady profile image

Londonlady 3 years ago

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


Anamika S profile image

Anamika S 3 years ago from Mumbai - Maharashtra, India

Wow! Never seen one before. Thanks for sharing!


rajan jolly profile image

rajan jolly 3 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

What a beautiful flower and a very interesting read.

Voted up, awesome and shared.


mr-veg profile image

mr-veg 3 years ago from Colorado United States

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 profile image

livingsta 4 years ago from United Kingdom Author

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


mayuri 4 years ago

why this flower is strinks


livingsta profile image

livingsta 4 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Thank you for stopping by Ellsam


ellsam blaido 4 years ago

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 profile image

livingsta 4 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Thank you Gester


gester 4 years ago

its amzing


qisha 4 years ago

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


praveena 4 years ago

it is so beautiful flower


chinu 4 years ago

grt flr !!!


kavfga 4 years ago

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


livingsta profile image

livingsta 4 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Thank you Shazz!


Shazzbomb2323 4 years ago

this is really cool and really quality info

wooowwwww!!!


livingsta profile image

livingsta 4 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Thank you William !


William Kluge 4 years ago

love it


livingsta profile image

livingsta 5 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Thank you Blissfulwriter for the info !


livingsta profile image

livingsta 5 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Thank you Jessica


BlissfulWriter profile image

BlissfulWriter 5 years ago

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" http://hubpages.com/education/Corpse-Flower-is-Wor...


jessica 5 years ago

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


jessica 5 years ago

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


livingsta profile image

livingsta 5 years ago from United Kingdom Author

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


unknown 5 years ago

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

thank u very much


livingsta profile image

livingsta 6 years ago from United Kingdom Author

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 profile image

livingsta 6 years ago from United Kingdom Author

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


livingsta profile image

livingsta 6 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Thank you misty , for dropping a few words :)


6 years ago

Sorry its "flower".


Gaurav  6 years ago

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 6 years ago

this flower is amazing and deserves to be preserved


MISTY 6 years ago

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


livingsta profile image

livingsta 6 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Thanks Giirii


giirii profile image

giirii 6 years ago

wooww


livingsta profile image

livingsta 6 years ago from United Kingdom Author

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


cosette 6 years ago

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


pinkhawk profile image

pinkhawk 6 years ago from Pearl of the Orient

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 profile image

livingsta 6 years ago from United Kingdom Author

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 profile image

Zsuzsy Bee 6 years ago from Ontario/Canada

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

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