The Corpse Flower – the largest flower in the world!

Imagine your girlfriend asking you for flowers. But, roses are too mainstream. Well why not get her the biggest flower in the world! Let’s just hope she doesn’t mind the smell..

What is Rafflesia?

Rafflesia is a genus of plants which are found in the rainforests of South East Asia, mostly in Borneo. These plants are parasites. They attach to a host and absorb nutrients and water. Hosts are usually certain types of vines.

The plant consists of a single flower. It has no leaves, stems or “real roots”. It is the largest flower in the world and can grow larger than 1 metre in diameter – the current record is 107cm. The largest species of rafflesia, the Rafflesia arnoldii, can weigh up to 10kg.

The main part of the plant lives inside their hosts while the only part you can see is the five-petaled “flower”. The flower is reddish-brown in colour with blister-like white spots. In the middle of the flower, there is a deep “well” with vertical spikes pointing up. The sexual organs of these plants lie deep in the well. A rafflesia plant can only either have male or female sexual organs and rely on insects to pollinate them.

Rafflesia keithii
Rafflesia keithii – Image credits: Mike Prince via Flickr

Rafflesias are notoriously known as the Corpse Flower because they smell horrible. If you put your nose into the “well” (which is not advisable), it smells like rotting flesh. Volatile organic compounds such sulphur are released by the flower to mimic this foul smell. The smell attracts flies to help pollinate these flowers.

Life cycle & reproduction

Mature rafflesia plants only flower for 3-5 days. Within this period, flies that are attracted to these flowers will unknowingly transfer pollen from a male to a female plant. After fertilization, the females make fruits. The fruits get eaten by small animals or insects and seeds get dispersed around the rainforest. If a seed lands on a suitable vine, a bud forms and matures over a year before the plant flowers again.

Rafflesia bud – Image credits:         Diana via Flickr

Why are Rafflesias endangered? – Threats/Uses

Everything about the rafflesia’s life cycle makes them very rare. They only flower for a short period, males and females have to flower at the same time and be close enough to be pollinated. When their seeds get dispersed, they have to attach to a very particular species of vines to grow and survive. Even if they do germinate and become buds, some of them will get trampled on and die.

Rafflesia flowers are also collected illegally for various purposes. Rafflesias have been used as traditional medicine to treat internal injuries and also infertility (although their benefits have not been scientifically proven). Raffelsias have been preserved and sold illegally at a high price as ornaments – maybe they really ARE given to girls since they’re the biggest flowers in the world!


However, all is not doom, Gloom or Vileplume!

Pokemon Vileplume – Image credits aflakhurrozi

The best way to keep something going is to keep it natural. Conservation programs are being carried out to ensure that rafflesia plants do not become extinct. Rainforests in Sumatra and Borneo are being protected to so that rafflesias will have a natural environment to grow in.

In not so natural ways, scientists are also conducting artificial conservation methods through grafting and regenerative experiments although there are no evidence of their labs smelling horrible.


More links:

7 Responses to “The Corpse Flower – the largest flower in the world!”

  1. Claire MacGregor says:

    My mum just got back from a holiday in Borneo and showed me some photos of these flowers, I had never seen them before but how interesting!

  2. Yau Low says:

    Oh awesome, I didn’t know about another corpse flower too. Thanks for the link Nicole!

  3. Jinia says:

    I don’t know that this smelly flower can be used for medicine or even preserved for ornament. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Jennifer Robertson says:

    Another corpse flower! I only knew of the one at the botanic gardens, it’s also called a corpse flower as it’s common name but it’s a different species

  5. Daniel Kelly says:

    That’s fascinating! I remember seeing pictures of that flower in the guinness book of world records, but never knew much about it. I like the link to pop culture too!

  6. Nicole says:

    This flower is bizarre. What is even more bizarre is that I recently read about another corpse flower called Titan Arum, that seems very similar. Who knew there were two gigantic flowers that smelled like dead people!?

  7. Timothy Brown says:

    Such a cool flower! They are kind of the panda of flowers if you think about it (size and special requirements).