Why The World’s Largest Flower Smells Like Rotting Corpses

Who knows why you’re hellbent on nabbing the world’s biggest flower? Maybe you need to apologize to your significant other for making the world’s biggest mistake. Maybe you have to find something to pin to the world’s biggest tuxedo lapel. Maybe you picked up some extra work over the holidays and now you’re doing whatever Carmen Sandiego tells you to. In any case, you’ve committed to bringing home the largest bloom on planet Earth. There’s only one problem: you’ll never get the smell out of your car.

Meet Rafflesia arnoldii, heavyweight champion of the world of flowers. When in full bloom, it can reach sizes of nearly three and a half feet from petal to petal, and brother, is it rare. The life cycle of this sucker is specialized to the point of reading like the rider for an over-the-hill rock group’s concert appearances. For one thing, it’s a parasitic organism, and will only grow when attached to the vines of a specific subspecies of grape vines. When it does manage to embed itself properly, its buds can take months to form, and the resulting mega-flower only lasts for a few days before withering and disappearing.

Everything the smell touches is its kingdom

But the light that burns the quickest also shines the grossest. Rafflesia arnoldii only has a limited window in which to pollinate, so it doesn’t waste time trying to impress bees by smelling sweet. Instead, it produces a stench similar to decaying meat and animal waste, bringing in a trove of flies and beetles to do its nasty business and cementing its place as “worst naturally occurring boutineer.”

Fun fact: smelling like a serial killer’s basement is a time honored tradition for cartoonishly gigantic flowers. According to the American Chemical Society, another species, Amorphophallus titanum, employs the same tactic, giving off such sultry olfactory undertones as limburger cheese, sweaty socks, and dead fish.

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