Rafflesia arnoldii, known to be largest flower on earth, is found in the rainforests of Java and Sumatra (Indonesia). It can attain a diameter of over 100 cm and may weigh up to 11kg (24 lbs). The flowers emerge from very large, cabbage-like, maroon or magenta buds. Interestingly, this plant is a parasite with no differentiation of leaves, roots, or stem but technically falls under vascular plants category. Perhaps the only part of Rafflesia that is identifiable as distinctly plant-like are the flowers. In fact, Rafflesia arnoldii becomes visible only when its plump buds emerge through the bark of its host and develop into the large, fleshy flowers. Interestingly, the largest flower in the world lacks the glamor the name may bring with it.
The plant draws its nutrition from a host plant (mostly belonging to the genus Tetrastigma, vine family or vitaceae) and emits an odour similar to that of rotting meat that attracts insects (especially flies and beetles) for purpose of pollination. Because of its characteristic smell, Rafflesia flower, the largest flower in the world, is nick-named “corpse flower”. The International Union for Conservation of Nature has classified the species as “vulnerable”, just below endangered.
Rafflesia arnoldii is one of the three national flowers of Indonesia and is locally known as “Padma raksasa” and is also called Kerubut (Devil’s Betelnut Box). It was officially recognized as a national “rare flower” (Paspa langka in Indonesian) in 1993.
There is an interesting story behind the discovery of world’s largest flower, Rafflesia Arnoldii. The evidence suggests that a French named Louis Auguste Deschamps (1765-1842) was on an expedition to Java, where in 1797 he collected a specimen of this novel plant. While returning to his motherland in 1798, his ship was taken over by British forces and all the notes and records related to Louis expedition were confiscated but rediscovered in 1954 when in the Natural History Museum. Another species of Rafflesia was collected from Sumatra in 1818 by a British botanist Joseph Arnold and Sir Thomas Stamford Bingley Raffles. Arnold died soon after this collection But Mrs. Raffles prepared a coloured drawing of the plant and sent it together with the preserved material to British Museum and Kew’s resident botanical artist Franz Bauer.
Arnold’s successor in Sumatra, William Jack (1795-1822) ensured that credit of discovering this novel plant must go to someone from Britain (preferably a botanist) instead of its actual discoverer i.e. Louis Auguste Deschamps [a good example of intellectual honesty and integrity for the so-called most enlightened and self-respecting nation]. He hurriedly prepared a draft a description and waited for the British Museum to produce a better version in case any hint of taking the credit comes from French side (very clever). Finally, however, the Britains succeeded in getting the name of Raffles on to the newly discovered plant and hence the genus name “Rafflesia” and the species name “arnoldii” (after Arnold). Of course intellectual honesty may not matter always and especially for those who have the means to establish the priority of art.