Selasa, 04 Maret 2008

Friday Parasite: Hidden Until Huge

February 29, 2008

Friday Parasite: Hidden Until Huge

This is Rafflesia arnoldii, a plant that produces the largest single flower in the world. But the flower is all you'll ever see of this particular plant -- the rest of it lives as a parasite inside the vine the flower sits on.


Rafflesia has lost most of the features that would let you know it's a plant. It has no leaves, no roots, no stem, and no chlorophyll -- so it can't make its own food from sunlight. Instead, it grows as threadlike strands of tissue inside its viney host, snitching nutrients and water from the host cells around it. In fact, most of the time Rafflesia is completely invisible to the outside eye. Until it flowers, when it throws out the most enormous and grotesque object ever to grace the Indonesian forest floor. Fleshy red and three feet across, the flower resembles rotting meat, and smells like it too -- in 1928 the colorful Eric Mjoberg described it as "a penetrating smell more repulsive than any buffalo carcass in an advanced stage of decomposition." The smell attracts carrion flies, which pollinate the flowers. Within a week of first bloom, the flower fades and the plant is once again hidden inside its host.

Image by Troy Davis

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