Rafflesia, among the world's largest flowers, belong to the family Rafflesiaceae. The plant family Rafflesiaceae has eight genera which includes the genus Rafflesia. Rafflesia arnoldi, that grows up to 150 cm in diameter, is the largest flower in the world. It was discovered by Sir Stamford Raffles and Dr Joseph Arnold on 19 May 1818.
Origin and distribution
Raffles and Arnold were touring the west coast of Sumatra in Borneo around the Manna river when their guide, excited and surprised, came to them with the news of having seen a very huge flower. The gigantic flower was named Rafflesia arnoldi by Raffles to commemorate his friendship with Arnold. Rafflesia sightings were reported much earlier though. Louis Auguste Deschamp, a French surgeon-naturalist, reported having seen the Rafflesia in 1797 in Java. Prior to both discoveries, the aborigines who had known about its presence were using Rafflesia for medicinal purposes. Since 1821, 24 Rafflesia species names have been published though not all of them are taxonomically resolved and identified.
Rafflesia is found in tropical rainforests of Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Philippines. It occurs only in certain habitats as a parasite on the Tetrastigma species of woody vines. Rafflesia is a very rare flower, difficult to reproduce in the lab and its dried specimen is difficult to preserve. Other species of Rafflesia can measure between 36 to 42 in. in diameter and weigh between 9 to 12 kg.
The first description of Rafflesia arnoldi was given by Robert Brown. Taxonomic classification of plant family Rafflesiaceae has not been thoroughly decided as yet. At least 55 species in eight genera however have been identified. The genera of Rafflesiaceae plant family are Apodanthes, Bdallophyton, Cytinus, Mitrastemon, Pilostyles, Rafflesia, Rhizanthes and Sapria. Since all the plants of this family are parasitic, they therefore do not have any roots, stems or leaves. Individual flowers or buds simply sprout on the species of Tetrastigma woody vines. They lack chlorophyll. Some flowers are monoecius, with both sexes in the same flower. All flowers of the family Rafflesiaceae may not carry the same parts and traits.
Usage and potential
Food: In Thailand, young buds of the flower are eaten as a delicacy.
Medicine: In Peninsular Malaysia, Rafflesia buds are used by women to stop internal bleeding and shrink the womb after childbirth. Men use it as an energy drink or an aphrodisiac. Thai monks use the buds to make different concoctions for different purposes. In spite of its usage for various purposes, the chemical composition of Rafflesia flowers has not been extensively analysed yet. Preliminary phytochemical screening, however showed no evidence of the flowers' medicinal properties. On the contrary, the buds and flowers have a high content of tannin and phenols which can be toxic when taken in large quantities.
Other uses: In Sabah, Malaysia, it was considered a flower of spirits or a taboo flower because of its foul smell and gigantic appearance. In Thailand, the flowers are believed to have mystical powers helping one attain nirvana.
Common name: Rafflesia.
Scientific name: Rafflesia arnoldi.
Malay name: Bunga patma, Yak-yak, Patma raksasa, Patma kemubut, Krubut, Pakma (Sarawak), Kukuanga (Sabah), Wusak-tombuakar (Tambunan), Ambun ambun, Kemubut (Sumatra).
Mandarin name: Da wang hua.
Other common names: Devil's betel box, Sun toadstool, Stinking corpse lily.
Species of Rafflesia
The recognised species of Rafflesia with their scientific name, year and place of discovery are listed as follows:
1821: Rafflesia arnoldi, found at Sumatra, Borneo.
1825: Rafflesia patma, Sumatra, Java.
1841: Rafflesia manillana, Leyte Island, Phillipines.
1850: Rafflesia rochussenii, Sumatra, Java.
1868: Rafflesia tuan-mudae, Borneo.
1879:Rafflesia hasseltii, Sumatra.
1884: Rafflesia schadenbergiana, Mindanao, Philippines
1910:Rafflesia cantleyi, Peninsular Malaysia
1918: Rafflesia borneensis, Borneo.
1918: Rafflesia ciliata, Borneo.
1918: Rafflesia witkampii, Borneo.
1984: Rafflesia gadutensis, Sumatra.
1984: Rafflesia keithii, Borneo.
1984: Rafflesia kerrii, Thailand and Peninsular Malaysia.
1984: Rafflesia micropylora, Sumatra.
1984: Rafflesia pricei, Borneo.
1989: Rafflesia tengku-adlinii, Borneo.
Naidu Ratnala Thulaja
Jamili Nais (2001). Rafflesia of the world (pp. 1-2, 14, 27-28, 30-31, 100-101,111). Malaysia: Sabah Parks; Natural History (Borneo).
(Call no.: RSING 583.2095953 JAM)
Kamarudin Mat Salleh. (1991). Rafflesia: Magnificent flower of Sabah. Kota Kinabalu: Borneo.
(Call no.: R 581.5249 KAM)
Polunin, I. (1987). Plants and flowers of Singapore (p. 17). Singapore: Times Editions.
(Call no.: RSING 581.95957 POL)
Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles: Book of days (pp. 74, 122). (1993). Singapore: Antiques of the Orient.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57021092 SIR)
The information in this article is valid as at 1997 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history on the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.