Many people may be familiar with facts about Rafflesia, the most smelled flower on earth with a single bright red or yellow bloom growing from the ground surface. Since Louis Deschamp discovered it in Java, Indonesia, between 1791 to 1794, this world’s largest flower has gained popularity among naturalists, botanists, and biologists.
Besides, it features unique characteristics, such as emitting an awful smell, having large blooms, and only growing in some countries in Southeast Asia, like Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand. To this date, there are 28 genus rafflesia flowers known in the world, with more expected to be found.
Furthermore, numerous articles are available on the internet to enlighten us about the Rafflesia flower. However, most of them are generally similar and do not highlight specific characteristics. Therefore, we have compiled some of the most mind-blowing facts about Rafflesia that are barely known to broaden your knowledge about this plant. Let’s take a look!
Table of Contents
- 1. A Symbol of Death
- 2. Produces Berry Fruits
- 3. You Can Eat Rafflesia Buds
- 4. The Rotten Smell Invites Pollinators, But Only Specific One
- 5. This Corpse Flower Can Be Cultivated
- 6. The Size Varies Between Species
- 7. Not Powdery, The Pollen is Viscous Liquid
- 8. Short-Term Bloomer with Long-Life Cycle
- 9. Tetrastigma Vine is Key To Its Survival
- 10. Female Flowers are Rare
- 11. Rafflesia Can Climb To A Tree. How?
- 12. Pollination Occurs Only With The Help of Insects
- 13. Rafflesia Consueloae is The Smallest One
- 14. As Alternative Medicines
- 15. Rafflesia Can Produce Heat
1. A Symbol of Death
Rafflesia is one of the world’s rarest and stinkiest flowers, bearing five petals with white buds all over the surfaces. It is known for its foul smell, resembling a rotten corpse. And for that reason, some people refer to Rafflesia as a symbol of death.
Besides, its parasitic habit is also the reason behind its epithet. Meanwhile, its bizarre appearance with an open disk mimicking a wide mouth in the middle of the bloom earned it another nickname, a monster flower.
2. Produces Berry Fruits
When we looked for some fun facts about the Rafflesia flower, we were surprised that there is one genus that produces fruits! It is Rafflesia consueloae. This cultivar grows in the Philippines, particularly in Pantabangan, Nueva Ecija.
Some researchers tried to monitor R. consueloae growth phases, from the development of the buds until its maturity from 2014 to 2016, and found out that the fruit was produced by perigone lobes of the female flower that wrinkled and turned black when the fruiting phase began.
Then, the perigone lobes and diaphragm would drop to retain the disk and column structure. These two would later harden, turning round with trench structure into a young fruit whose smell is similar to the mix of coconut and apple when it matures. Additionally, this fruit is considered a dehiscent berry.
3. You Can Eat Rafflesia Buds
It may be one of the most interesting facts about Rafflesia you have never heard before. Even though this giant flower has a disgusting rotten flesh aroma, the buds are an authentic delicacy for indigenous people in Thailand.
It is quite normal to eat foods made from unusual ingredients, such as insects, as alternative protein sources in this country. There are around 200 species of insects widely consumed in Thailand, with an increasing number observed. Therefore, we were not surprised when we found out that they consumed Rafflesia.
Nonetheless, you cannot merely eat them without proper knowledge since researchers have found that the buds and the flower contain a high concentration of tannin and phenols that may possess toxic traits for health.
Despite being able to consume, picking endangered species from their nature is highly restricted.
4. The Rotten Smell Invites Pollinators, But Only Specific One
This gigantic flower may be disliked by many for its horrendous aroma. But for carrion flies, this smell is very inviting. The research examined male and female flowers of Rafflesia kerri, an endemic flower to Peninsular Malaysia and Thailand, to determine whether specific chemical and volatile compounds influence the species of pollinators visiting the flower.
It was observed that 2,4-diisocyanato-1-methylbenzene was the chemical and volatile compound behind the sweet, fruity, and intense aroma in the Rafflesia. This compound was also found in feces, urine, carcass, and gastrointestinal tract content which attract carrion flies to perch.
Moreover, carotenoids, anthocyanins, and flavonoids present in Rafflesia bloom give it a striking color that also lures the flies.
5. This Corpse Flower Can Be Cultivated
As an endangered species, it is crucial to encourage trials in Rafflesia conservation. Fortunately, it works! Despite its complicated and mysterious biological behavior, it can be cultivated by the grafting tissue method first introduced by Mursidawati, an Indonesian botanist.
After hundreds of trials and failures, she managed to bud the Rafflesia patma-infected vine to another host plant. With such a tremendous effort, she had cultivated 16 Rafflesia flowers from buds to blooms!
Although this largest known individual flower may not be able to survive in other climates, at least you can preserve its existence; thus, younger generations can witness such a whimsical creature.
6. The Size Varies Between Species
Among other genera, Rafflesia arnoldii is by far the biggest flower on earth, weighing around 20 pounds and 3 feet tall! This huge rafflesia flower grows massive petals exceeding 70 to 110 cm on the forest ground. Some researchers suggested that the diameter varied between species, but some discovered that it had no influence.
In addition, the mortality rate of the flower could be determined by the size of its buds. The smaller the buds (< 5 cm), the higher the mortality rate. Just for quick facts, the buds of Rafflesia azlanii can reach around 17-20 cm in diameter. Imagine how big the buds of Rafflesia arnoldii can develop!
7. Not Powdery, The Pollen is Viscous Liquid
We have a vivid impression of pollen being powdery and can be blown by the wind. Here, wind pollination occurs, mostly in flowers. However, it is not the case with Rafflesia. Interestingly, the pollen of this parasite plant is viscous liquid!
It is indeed one of the most bizarre facts about Rafflesia that has blown our minds!
The flies will take this snot-like pollen from the male flower on their back and let it dry. Due to its long viability after flying for 12-14 miles to the female flower, pollination can take place.
After this, the development stages of Rafflesia begin for about 5 to 9 months. However, only one-third of them can survive before reaching their maturity and blooming stage. The successful rate of Rafflesia pollination remains unknown.
8. Short-Term Bloomer with Long-Life Cycle
Although it looks enormous, Rafflesia is a short-term bloomer. The biological background behind this nature is still not understood. Nonetheless, some argue that it is due to its high mortality rate and disturbance of its natural habitat.
The flower will take about nine months to bloom but only lasts 3-5 days before it begins to rot. Meanwhile, the buds need almost 21 months to grow and develop. Those are a few of the reasons why this flower is extremely rare.
Contrary to its short-flowering season, it has a long-life cycle of around 3 to 4.5 years, depending on the genus. For example, R. arnoldii may have 3.5 to 5 years of lifespan, while R. rochussenii only 2.5 years from buds until the fruit ripens.
9. Tetrastigma Vine is Key To Its Survival
You may wonder how Rafflesia obtains its food to live since it does not have chlorophyll, allowing the flower to perform photosynthesis. Instead of catching flies that perch on the flower, Rafflesia arnoldii relies on the host plant to survive.
10. Female Flowers are Rare
No wonder Rafflesia is an endangered species since female flowers are scarce. The ratio gap between male and female flowers is significantly different, about 22:8, where the females generally consist of only 27% against males.
It is because the female flower takes a longer time to complete its life cycle than the male. For instance, the complete life cycle of female Rafflesia arnoldii ranges from 3 years and 5 months to 5 years and one month.
Meanwhile, the male takes only 2 years and 11 months to 4 years and 5 months. What interesting facts about Rafflesia!
Furthermore, some genera of Rafflesia whose females had been observed were Rafflesia keithii (38%), Rafflesia pricei (50%), Rafflesia lobata (14%), and Rafflesia manillana (6%). This condition is worsening by the decreasing population in nature due to illegal logging and the difficulty of carrying out conservation.
11. Rafflesia Can Climb To A Tree. How?
Even though Rafflesia generally appears on the ground atop Tetrastigma and does not have roots or stems, there were some occasions when the flower grew at 2-7 meters in height.
This may be caused by the interaction between Tetrastigma and surrounding trees, allowing it to grow vines above the tree trunk. Hence, the Rafflesia that grows on the Tetrastigma roots can also be lifted and seems to grow at a certain height.
12. Pollination Occurs Only With The Help of Insects
Knowing that pollen of Rafflesia is a viscous liquid, it is impossible to pollinate the flower by the wind. Therefore, carrion flies play a crucial role to perform this task.
First, the insect is attracted to the rotten smell emitted from the bloom. Next, it will visit the male flower to obtain the pollen, entering its anther grooves located in the central part of the flower.
Then, the flies will carry the pollen on the back and let it dry along the way to the female. After that, it will fly to the sulcus, where it will indirectly be squeezed because the area is quite narrow, releasing the pollen from the male.
However, only large flies can do the job since the wings are large enough to bring the pollen.
Nonetheless, Rafflesia pollination rarely occurs since you need to have male and female flowers growing and blooming together. Other than that, the mortality rate of their buds is significantly high, approximately 80-90%, which makes the situation incredibly difficult.
13. Rafflesia Consueloae is The Smallest One
Compared to all other Rafflesia species, Rafflesia consueloae is the smallest species. It is the newest one discovered on Luzon Island, Philippines. Its flower is only 9.73 cm in diameter when it is fully blooming, way smaller than Rafflesia arnoldii, which can grow more than 20 cm.
Another feature that sets this Rafflesia aside from the rest is its appearance. Instead of a wide, blood-red disk, it bears a creamy-white disk with upright perigone lobes.
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14. As Alternative Medicines
Besides delicacy, Rafflesia has long been a natural medicine for indigenous people to cure some health issues.
For example, R. baleteii buds extract was used to stop internal bleeding during childbirth, restore the size of the uterus after giving birth, cure the stomachache, and as an energy drink for men in Peninsular Malaysia.
They simply boil the Rafflesia buds to obtain the extract and then drink it.
Later, it was proven by a 2009 in-vivo research on R. baleteii used rats that the extract indeed contained anti-microbial properties and possessed a wound-healing effect. This result was in line with the previous, traditional use of Rafflesia mentioned as alternative medicines.
15. Rafflesia Can Produce Heat
Plants can rarely generate heat, but Rafflesia does. Some argue that this heat is effective in the meltdown of the snow, which is highly unlikely to occur in rainforests.
Well, those are some extraordinary facts about Rafflesia that probably stay hidden until now. Therefore, we have compiled them for you who are passionate about the botanical field or merely curious about this giant, stinky flower.
On the other hand, others comment that it helps to emit volatile compounds of the flower. These compounds create a horrendous odor that can attract pollinators, luring them to perch on the flower and, hopefully, resulting in pollination.