The Life Cycle of a Rafflesia Plant
The rafflesia, a parasitic plant, lives only on the tetrastigma vine in the jungles of Sumatra and Borneo. It produces the world's largest flower, which measures up to 3 feet across and weighs 15 pounds, according to the Library of Congress. Approximately 17 species of rafflesia exist. It produces no roots, stems or leaves.
Nutrients and Water
The rafflesia grows within its host plant by sending out tiny threadlike filaments that twine into the very cells of the host. From the threadlike filaments the rafflesia gains all the nutrients and water it requires for survival. Even though the rafflesia is considered a plant it does not produce chlorophyll, which renders it incapable of receiving nutrients through photosynthesis as other plants do.
Damage and Life
The plant spends the majority of its life embedded within its host with no visible parts to the naked eye on the outer part of the plant until the rafflesia buds and blooms. It does very little damage to the host plant despite the fact that it constantly sucks nutrients and water.
The rafflesia produces a tiny bud on the host tetrastigma vine. The bud erupts near the plants roots or twining tendrils. The bud takes 12 months to swell before it blossoms. It blooms around midnight on a rainy night, according to the Oracle Education Foundation. The blossom lasts only 5 to 7 days. Flowers are either male or female and produce a pungent unpleasant aroma that many say smells similar to rotting flesh. The unpleasant smell attracts flies to help ensure pollination. The flowers appear with 5 large petals and a reddish-orange coloration. White speckling adorns each petal.
Pollination is rare because most locations contain only male flowers or female flowers. In order for pollination to occur, the fly must land on the male flower and then take the pollen to the female flower. If pollination occurs, the flower produces a globular, smooth-skinned fruit measuring up to 5 inches in diameter. It contains thousands of seeds. Birds and squirrels enjoy eating the fruit and help to spread the rafflesia seeds through their eliminations.
The rafflesia is in serious danger of extinction as the rain forest is burned and cleared for crop production and urban growth. The buds are also harvested and sold because locals believe they have medicinal properties if consumed. The plant has never been cultivated in captivity and it only grows on the tetrastigma vine, so its survival is seriously threatened.