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Rafflesia is a genus of parasitic flowering plants. It was discovered in the Indonesian rain forest by an Indonesian guide working for Dr. Joseph Arnold in 1818, and named after Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, the leader of the expedition. It contains 15-19 species (including four incompletely characterized species as recognized by Meijer 1997), all found in southeastern Asia, on the Malay Peninsula, Borneo, Sumatra and Kalimantan, West Malaysia, and the Philippines. The plant has no stems, leaves or true roots. It is an endoparasite of vines in the genus Tetrastigma (Vitaceae), spreading its root-like haustoria inside the tissue of the vine. The only part of the plant that can be seen outside the host vine is the five-petaled flower. In some species, such as Rafflesia arnoldii, the flower may be over 100 cm in diameter, and weigh up to 10 kg. Even the smallest species, R. manillana, has 20 cm diameter flowers. The flowers look and smell like rotting meat, hence its local names which translate to "corpse flower" or "meat flower" (but see below). The vile smell that the flower gives off attracts insects such as carrion flies, which transport pollen from male to female flowers. Little is known about seed dispersal, however, tree shrews and other forest mammals apparently eat the fruits and disperse the seeds. Rafflesia is an official state flower of Sabah in Malaysia, as well as for the Surat Thani Province, Thailand.
The name "corpse flower" applied to Rafflesia is confusing because this common name also refers to the Titan Arum (Amorphophallus titanum) of the family Araceae. Moreover, because Amorphophallus has the world's largest unbranched inflorescence, it is sometimes mistakenly credited as having the world's largest flower. Both Rafflesia and Amorphophallus are flowering plants, but they are still distantly related. Rafflesia arnoldii has the largest single flower of any flowering plant, at least when one judges this by weight. Amorphophallus titanum has the largest unbranched inflorescence, while the Talipot palm (Corypha umbraculifera) forms the largest branched inflorescence, containing thousands of flowers; this plant is monocarpic, meaning that individuals die after flowering.
Comparison of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequences of Rafflesia with other angiosperm mtDNA indicated that this parasite evolved from photosynthetic plants of the order Malpighiales.. Another study from that same year confirmed this result using both mtDNA and nuclear DNA sequences, and showed that three other groups traditionally classified in Rafflesiaceae were unrelated . A more recent study found Rafflesia and its relatives to be embedded within the family Euphorbiaceae, which is surprising as members of that family typically have very small flowers. According to their analysis, the rate of flower size evolution was more or less constant throughout the family except at the origin of Rafflesiaceae, where the flowers rapidly evolved to become much larger before reverting to the slower rate of change.
Since 2002 there has been a tremendous amount of activity by Filipino scientists who have discovered and named several new species of Rafflesia. Before this time there were two species known: R. manillana and R. schadenbergiana, the latter of which was last seen in 1882 on Mt. Apo in Davao Province on Mindanao Island, but was thought to be extinct. The following gives a chronical of these activities:
|This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Rafflesia". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.|