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Discovery Magazine 9/1/2002

A Real Stinker

Maybe you think plants are boring. After all, how exciting can plants really be? Hold that thought, while I introduce you to one of the most amazing living organisms in the world.

Reader, please meet the Rafflesia (rah-flee’-zha) arnoldii, also known as the “stinking corpse lily.” What is so amazing about this plant, you might ask? First, it has the largest flower of any plant in the world. The flower can grow to be 3 feet across, and can weigh more than twenty pounds (that’s about 5 pounds heavier than some of the heaviest bowling balls!). However, this flower does not grow on a stem with leaves like other flowers. The Rafflesia is a parasite plant that grows inside a vine called a Tetrastigma vine (a relative of the grape). When a Rafflesia flower first pops out of the vine, it looks like a pale-orange cabbage, but then it spreads five large petals that are fleshy-red in color with raised white speckles.

Why is it called the “stinking corpse lily?” The huge flower gives off a horrible odor that smells like rotting flesh. The red petals dotted by white speckles resemble rotting meat with maggots on it. This disgusting disguise draws carrion flies and beetles to the flower in search of food. The insects shuttle to the flower for a meal, only to discover that there is none to be had. The pollen of the huge blossom attaches to the bugs, which spread it to other Rafflesias, causing pollination to occur. After pollination, a single “stinking corpse lily” bloom can produce over 4 million seeds. Some of those seeds are carried on the feet of squirrels, elephants, or other animals. When one of those seeds lands in a moist crevice of the Tetrastigma, it begins to grow, starting the process over again.

The Rafflesia arnoldii is very rare and is found only in the rain forests of Sumatra and Borneo. Its huge flower only blooms for about a week, so seeing one is a special occasion. In James 1:11, the Bible explains that men’s lives are like flowers; they blossom for a short time, and then “fade away” just like the Rafflesia bloom. Let us all do everything we can so that our short lives on this Earth will bring glory to God, and so we will get to live forever in heaven.

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