Saturday, May 19, 2012

Crazy Plants: Rafflesia

The flower of Rafflesia arnoldii
The genus Rafflesia contains some quite unusual species found in Asian forests. They are parasites, and are missing many of the parts that are so recognizable as making a plant a plant. They can't photosynthesize, and lack roots, leaves, and stems! In fact, their filamentous body tissue more closely resembles a fungus. Despite these traits, one prominent structure makes it very obvious that they are plants: the flowers. These flowers are quite remarkable in that they are the largest single flowers in the world. There are even larger structures that are made up of a group of flowers, but Rafflesia arnoldii, also known as the corpse flower, holds the record for largest single flower, up to three feet in diameter and weighing up to a whopping fifteen pounds. The flower is pollinated by carrion flies (which eat rotten meat) and to attract them the flower is the color of meat and smells of rotting flesh. Since the plants are only intermittently distributed throughout the forest, there is concern over whether the flower will be pollinated. The flower is only around for five to seven days and the size and stench helps make it more likely that pollination will occur.

Here's a video of this amazing flower narrated by David Attenborough (begins at 0:30):


Sources are the Library of Congress, Southern Illinois University, Western Michigan University, and Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. Image is from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

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