The largest flower on Earth is on the verge of extinction

Yulia PoteriankoLife
Rafflesia can become a new symbol of nature conservation in Asia

The tropical plants of the Rafflesia genus once amazed scientists with the size of their flowers. In some cases, their diameter can reach 2 meters. They turned out to be the largest flower in the world, making many researchers and travelers dream of seeing them with their own eyes, despite their not-so-pleasant appearance and smell. Now researchers warn that this natural wonder is in danger of extinction.

According to Cosmos Magazine, as many as 60% of rafflesia are now at serious risk. But it is still possible to save them.

What is Rafflesia, one of the most bizarre plants in the world

All members of the Rafflesiaceae genus are parasitic plants. Their natural habitat is the tropical forests of Southeast Asia (Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand). They are extremely difficult to grow in botanical gardens due to their unusual life cycle.

Rafflesia has neither roots nor stems. They also have no organs that would carry out photosynthesis. This parasite receives all the substances necessary for life from the host plant, to which it connects through sucker roots. It develops, roughly speaking, in the body of the host plant. But when the time for pollination comes, rafflesia releases buds that bloom in giant flowers. They sometimes exceed 1 meter in diameter and weigh 10 kilograms.

Rafflesia flowers look like rotten meat and smell similar. This is how the plant attracts pollinating insects. For this, it received the nickname "corpse lily".

It is very difficult to predict when rafflesia will bloom. Combined with its parasitic lifestyle, this makes it extremely difficult to grow artificially. It also makes the plant extremely vulnerable to external influences in its natural habitat.

Why Rafflesia is in danger of extinction

Scientists now cannot say how many species of rafflesia exist in nature for sure. They managed to describe 42 of them, but the discovery continues, as does the categorization of plants. Because of this confusion, only one species of this fascinating genus is listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) as endangered. This is Rafflesia magnifica. However, the researchers, who published an article in Plants People Planet, argue that this number should be much higher.

According to rough estimates, 60% of rafflesia species are at "serious risk of extinction" and fall under IUCN standards. At least 67% of the plant's known habitats are not protected areas.

To save the unique plants, scientists have proposed a four-pronged approach:

  • Environmental protection as a key tool for saving wildlife;
  • Deeper research of plants of this genus for a better understanding of their life cycle and importance;
  • Development of an effective method of propagation of rafflesias outside their range. So far, only the Bogor Botanical Garden near Jakarta in Indonesia has achieved some success in this difficult task;
  • Development of ecotourism to engage and stimulate local communities. This method has been successful in West Sumatra.

"Indigenous peoples are some of the best custodians of our forests, and rafflesia conservation programs are much more likely to succeed if they involve local communities," explained co-author Adriane Tobias, a forester from the Philippines. According to scientists, rafflesia can become a new symbol of nature conservation in the tropics of Asia.

Earlier, OBOZREVATEL shared how climate change can affect photosynthesis in the tropics and kill the "lungs of the Earth".

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