Friday Fellow: Corpse Flower

by Piter Kehoma Boll

ResearchBlogging.org I guess most of you already know Rafflesia arnoldii, the corpse flower, as it is quite popular for a lot of reasons. But sometimes it’s nice to show the classics too, right?

Described in 1822 by Robert Brown, the corpse flower is remarkable for having the largest flower among all flowering (and non-flowering too) plants. Its name honors its two discoverers, the statesman Sir Thomas Stamford Bingley Raffles and the botanist Joseph Arnold, who collected the first specimen in 1818. It is known from the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Borneo, ocurring in secondary and primary forests. It is one of the three national flowers of Indonesia.

Rafflesia arnoldii. Photo by Henrik Hansson*

Rafflesia arnoldii. Photo by Henrik Hansson*

There’s a lot of other weird things about it yet to be mentioned. Its common name, corpse flower, is due to the fact that the flowers smell like rotten flesh to attract carrion flies from genera Lucilia and Sarcophaga that pollinate them. Besides that, Rafflesia arnoldii is also a parasitic plant, extracting all the nutrients it needs from the roots or stems of vines of the genus Tetrastigma, so that it doesn’t have neither roots nor leaves and passes most of its life hidden inside the parasitized plant. The only visible structure is the flower, which takes months to grow, but remains open only for a few days.

Currently, the corpse flower is not evaluated by IUCN, so that it is not labelled as threatened, but human disturbance in its natural habitat, including ecoturism, seems to be decreasing the number of flowers opening per year.

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References:

Brown, R. 1821. XV. An Account of a new Genus of Plants, named Rafflesia. Transactions of the Linnean Society of London, 13 (1), 201-234 DOI: 10.1111/j.1095-8339.1821.tb00062.x

KEW Royal Botanic Gardens: Rafflesia arnoldii (corpse flower). Available at: <http://www.kew.org/plants-fungi/Rafflesia-arnoldii.htm > Access on February 8, 2013.
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