Discover the enormous corpse flower, and find out why this is one of the heaviest, rarest and smelliest blooms found on Earth.
Rafflesia arnoldii, with its massive one-metre (3.3-foot)-diameter bloom, is the largest individual flower yet found on the planet – usually in the tropical rainforests of Indonesia.
The plant has neither a stem, roots, nor leaves, and it doesn’t even contain chlorophyll, which means it’s incapable of photosynthesis to produce food for itself. Instead this endoparasitic plant survives by growing inside the damaged stems or roots of a host plant, a kind of grape vine known as tetrastigma, and draining nourishment from this.
Once the flower is ready to bloom it bursts out of the host to reveal a vibrant yet foul-smelling blossom. And it’s this odour of rotting flesh that justifies rafflesia arnoldii’s other, more familiar moniker: the corpse flower. This, together with its distinctive red-and-white polka-dot appearance, attracts carrion flies, which help to pollinate the giant flower.
How the rafflesia grows
Though the rafflesia has a relatively short life of about a week, it can be several years in the making. First, parasitic filaments of fungus-like tissue penetrate the vasculartissues of the stem/root of the host vine. Between a year and a year and a half later, the rafflesia then begins to develop outside the hostvineasatiny bud. For nine months this bud swells into a growth that eventually bursts out of the host’s stem or root.
The growth will continue to expand until it looks like the head of a large brown cabbage. The rafflesia usually blossoms overnight, producing the smelly, record-breaking bloom as the petals unfurl.