Rafflesia arnoldii – the biggest flower in the world

Rafflesia arnoldii – the biggest flower in the world

One of the great wonders of the world of plants is the Rafflesia arnoldii (member of the Rafflesiaceae family). This plant has no leaves, stem or roots. The only thing it has is one huge flower, one meter in diameter, weighing up to 8 kg (16 lbs).

You can see the Rafflesia only in the tropical steppes of the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. It was discovered in the 1818 by the English traveler Dr. Joseph Arnold during his expedition on the island of Sumatra.  Here is what he writes in his diary about his first impressions from the Rafflesia:


In Paolo Lebas, near river Manna, I accidentally came across the biggest, at least in my view, wonder of nature. I’ve separated from the group for a while when one of my Malaysian servants run up to me his face full of limitless wonder started shouting: “My lord, come with me quickly, a huge flower, wonderful, unusual!”. I followed him and in about 100 meters I spotted a huge flower, growing directly from the ground. To be honest, if I was by myself, without any witnesses, I would probably not dare to even mention the size of this flower. It was so much bigger than the flowers we are used to. I was lucky to be accompanied by Sir Stemford, Mrs. Riffles and the respectful Mr. Polsgrave – a local resident. Although they were surprised as much as I was, they could testify that I was telling the truth. The flower was exactly one yard (92 cm) in diameter. This was astonishing.

The plant’s name originates from the name of its discoverer as well as from the name of his fellow explorers – The Riffles family.

Rafflesia arnoldii

The Rafflesia arnoldii is a parasite plant which attacks the crawling roots of the lianas from the Tetrastigma genus. Its sticky seeds sprout on cracked crest. The parasite penetrates the tissue of the plant-host and forms a small colorful bud. At first it is not seen from the outside, but in 9 months a huge colorful bud shows on the surface of the stem. A huge flower with five mushy petals, close to 2 centimeters in thickness is seen when the flower opens up. The flowers are red, and their surface is covered with yellow spots which helps them mimic rotten meat. This impression grows with the strong smell of carrion coming from the Rafflesia. It can be sensed in a radius of 15 meters. Attracted by the “pleasant” smell, the insects from the Diptera order (Dipteral) attack the flower and pollinate it. We have to mention that the flower has a big gland which secretes nectar to attract the insects. It can produce up to 7 liters of nectar.

The Rafflesia often grows on routes used by elephants. According to some researchers, the elephants step on the plants and in this way transfer the seeds that have stuck to their feet. Rodents also distribute seeds by eating the flower’s fruit.