Rafflesia arnoldii, the biggest flower on earth


Rafflesia arnoldii, commonly known as the corpse flower, is the biggest flower on earth. It received its nickname "corpse flower" as a result of its characteristic odour.

There are approximately 17 different species of Rafflesia. Most of these Rafflesia species tend to grow in south-east Asia, mostly in Borneo, and most of them bloom in different shades of red, although some flowers appear pink or brown.

This parasitic plant shows no roots or leaves and radiates the smell of a decaying corpse. This attracts pollinators which in return pollinate the flower. The Rafflesia is the largest flower known on earth, measuring up to 90 cm across and having a weight up to 11 kg. Image: Rafflesia 3 by MaewNam under Creative Common license (CC BY-SA 2.0).


Family: Rafflesiaceae

Genus: Rafflesia

Common name: Corpse flower



Unlike many other plants, the Rafflesia does not rely on photosynthesis to get energy. It takes its nutrients from a host plant instead. Rafflesia doesn't have roots or leaves but it produces small filaments that appear as line thin threads. They are used to get the nutrients from the host vine, the Tetrastigma vine.   

CURIOSITY: The first person to report about the existence of this plant was Mr. Joseph Arnold, a surgeon who during an expedition in Sumatra in 1818. He was accompanied by Sir Stamford Raffles, best known for his founding of the city of Singapore [3], getting later on the name Rafflesia on his honour.



RAFFLESIA ARNOLDII BUDSThe Rafflesia flower only stays open for 5 to 7 days, what makes incredibly difficult to locate and cultivate this rare plant. Rafflesia grows only in undisturbed lowland forest. This habitat is rapidly decreasing and so it is Rafflesia arnoldii.

The number of Rafflesia remains unknown. It is not only difficult to locate it but almost impossible to study. Taking specimens can not only kill the flower but also the host vine, so the only way to preserve these extremely rare flowers is to conserve its habitats intact. Image: Rafflesia bud by MaewNam under Creative Common license (CC BY-SA 2.0).



Each mature blossom can produce millions of seeds, but only 10 to 20 percent of them do survive. For this plant to germinate, the seed must find its way to the host vine.

Pollination occurs when a pollinator, such as a fly, enters a male flower and transfers the pollen to female flowers. This is a rare occurrence, which together with the lack of appropriate habitats is, unfortunately, the reason why Rafflesia is becoming extinct.

Rafflesia is thought to be pollinated by elephants but in fact, it is pollinated by the Calliphora vicina and Lucilia caesar commonly known as blowfly, two species which are the parasite to the elephants.



But Rafflesia is not the only semi-parasitic plant, others more commonly known plants as Mistletoe (Viscum album), commonly known as European mistletoe, is also a semi-parasitic plant that grows on different host trees [2] and has been mostly known for being part of the Christmas tradition as well as being used for decoration in most of our countries.



But some Rafflesia species exert other properties. For example the Rafflesia hasseltii, which buds extracts show to be effective on healing wounds. Wounds treated with the placebo containing 5%, 10% Rafflesia hasseltii buds extract increased rate of wound closure and contraction. These histological findings suggest that Rafflesia hasseltii buds extract is very effective in accelerating the wound healing process [1].

Disclaimer: The information presented on this website is not intended to prescribe or give in any way or form medical advice, recommend or diagnose. Please read the disclaimer at the bottom of this page for more info.



[1] Wound healing activities of rafflesia hasseltii extract in rats. Abdulla MA, Ahmed KA, Ali HM, Noor SM, Ismail S. Department of Molecular Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University Malaya 50603 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
[2] Viscum album Exerts Anti-Inflammatory Effect by Selectively Inhibiting Cytokine-Induced Expression of Cyclooxygenase-2 Pushpa Hegde,1,2 Mohan S. Maddur,1,3,4 Alain Friboulet,5 Jagadeesh Bayry,1,3,4 and Srini V. Kaveri1,3,4,*