Garden of Horrors: Rafflesia

Garden of Horrors: Rafflesia

Not sure what it says about Garden of Horrors, but we seem to feature a whole lot of parasitic plants. It’s not intentional. Perhaps it’s a nature vs. nurture thing—maybe if they weren’t so disgusting these plants wouldn’t become parasites! You know? Maybe if they had gone to college, bought a house, and settled down, things would have turned out differently! You ever thought about THAT plants?

Ahem—regardless of the reasoning, today’s featured plant is one I’m sure many of you expected to see sooner or later. After all, it looks like a cheesy prop from the Star Trek: The Original Series and it smells like rotten meat. That’s right; we’re looking at the Rafflesia more commonly known as the carrion flower or corpse lily.

"Rafflesia keithii" by Mike Prince
Rafflesia keithii by Mike Prince, 2014

The Rafflesia (technically a family of twenty-eight distinct species) is often called “Queen of the Parasites.” It’s such a parasite that you can’t see anything other than its goofy-ass blossom. There are no leaves. No roots. The rest of the plant—mostly made up of the rootlike haustorium—spreads like a creeper through the tissue of its host vine. There it gathers the nutrients needed to grow its enormous fleshy flower.

And what a flower it is. This is the largest flower on earth. Others are mere pretenders. How large is this thing? Well, this sucker can be nearly three and a half feet wide and weigh up to twenty-two pounds. “A beaut” or “an absolute unit” as they say on the farm. Across the genus, the look remains mostly the same, but the details shift. Some are wartier than others. A few wilt quicker. Others grow smaller. Some are more star-shaped. But they all have the distinctive five-petals, the fleshy look, and… oh, and the smell.

There’s a reason this is called the carrion flower. The title is more than appropriate for something so gross. Most often, the buds take months to develop, and when they blossom, they smell like rotting flesh. Neat? This Eau de mort (Yeah, okay. Look, I know that translates as “death water” but I’m trying to evoke the concept of perfume. Work with me here!) attracts carrion flies which in turn pollinate the unisexual flowers. I have to say; you need to rethink your pollination strategy if you have flies working as your go-between during sexy times.

Goofy looking, parasitic, and smells like death—I’d say this is a fitting entry into the Garden of Horrors. Thankfully, many of us will never have to smell these flowers, it’s generally found in the rainforests of Southeast Asia, and they’re rare, taking months to blossom and then lasting only a few days when they do. If you want to see what this strange flower looks like opening, I’ve embedded a video above. Silly as it is, let’s all take a moment and be thankful we can’t smell it.

☠️ More Garden of Horrors

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