Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Rafflesia - World's Largest Flower


Rafflesia - World's Largest Flower

Davao is no stranger to superlatives: Davao City being the largest city in the world, and is home to the largest eagle in the world, and the list goes on. . . And, I would not be surprised that, again, the largest flower in the world called Rafflesia should find its home in the foothill village of New Albay   mountain ranges in Maragusan, Nabunturan, Compostela Valley, Davao del Norte.


Map of Maragusan


 Maragusan, Nabunturan, Compostela Valley, Davao del Norte

Rafflesia is a large parasitic plant discovered in the lush tropical rain forest of Indonesia by an Indonesian guide working for Dr. Joseph Arnold in 1818, and named it after Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, founder of the British colony of Singapore, and leader of the expedition. The discovery eventually led to more discovery of  27 species in southeastern Asia, on the Malay Peninsula, Borneo, Sumatra, and in the Philippines. 


Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles
July 6, 1781 - July 5, 1826 (aged 44)

Rafflesia is the world's largest, the heaviest, the rarest and the one of the most stinkiest flowers in the world. It grows to 1 meter wide and weighs about 10 kgs. The plant has no stems, leaves or roots, and does not have chlorophyll. It has only nutrient-absorbing threads to absorb nutrients from the host on which it lives. It is an endoparasite of vines in the genus Tetrastigma (Vitaceae), spreading its root-like haustoria inside the tissue of the vine. The only part of the plant that can be seen outside the host vine is the five-petaled flower. After 9 months of maturation, Rafflesia plant opens into a cabbage-sized bud. The sexual organs are located beneath the rim of the disk. The vile smell that the flower emits attracts insects such as flies and carrion beetles, which then pollinate the rare plant. Rafflesia is an official state flower of Indonesia, also Sabah state in Malaysia, as well as for the Surat Thani Province, Thailand.


Rafflesia 
World's largest, heaviest, rarest and the one of the most stinkiest flowers

Maragusan’s Rafflesia Mira is the fourth rafflesia species identified in the Philippines, along with Rafflesia Speciosa in Antique, and Rafflesia Manillana in Samar and Luzon.  A Rafflesia Mira in bloom measures 45-60 cm in diameter, approximately the same size as Rafflesia Speciosa's 45-56 cm, but larger than Luzon’s Rafflesia Manillana’s 14-20 cm diameter.


 Rafflesia Mira of Maragusan, Davao


Rafflesia Speciosa of Antique


Rafflesia Manillana of Samar and Luzon


Rafflesia Schadenbergiana of Davao

One other species, Rafflesia Schadenbergiana was last recorded in 1882 in Mount Apo in Davao and was widely believed to have been extinct until buds of the same species were rediscovered in South Cotabato in 1994. In 2007, Dr. Julie Barcelona, an international Filipino botanist from the Philippine National Museum, confirmed the discovery of yet another population of Rafflesia Schadenbergiana in Bukidnon.


Dr. Julie Barcelona


Dr. Daniel Nickrent


Dr. Daniel Nickrent in action

Two international plant scientists are currently pressing for a massive information and education campaign to raise awareness about the Rafflesia Mira. Dr. Daniel Nickrent, professor from Southern Illinois, United States, and Dr. Julie Barcelona, believe that the population in all the 11 sites he has visited belonges to the same Rafflesia Mira species. Dr. Nickrent explained that the genus Rafflesia Mira, with known 15 species, is endemic to Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines, and ranks among the rarest and most endangered flowers in South-East Asia. Ten of these species are found in the Philippines. Maragusan’s Rafflesia Mira was discovered by Filipino scientists led by Dr. Edwino Fernando and Dr. Perry Ong in the foothill village of New Albay in Maragusan. 


Dr. Edwino Fernando


Dr. Perry Ong (5th from Left)
receives a Plaque of Appreciation during the
2004 Hugh Greenwood Environmental Science Awards

Other recorded Rafflesia species in the Philippines are the Rafflesia lobata discovered in 2005 in Mount Igtuog and Mount Sakpaw in Central Panay mountain range; the Rafflesia Baletei in the Mount Isarog and Mount Iriga range of Camarines Sur which was initially collected by botanist Danilo Balete in 1991; the Rafflesia Banahawensis of Mount Banahaw which Dr. Barcelona later renamed Rafflesia Philippensis Blanco after her investigation found that the species was first named by a Spanish plant collector in 1845; the Rafflesia Panchoana of Mount Makiling, a new species discovered in 2007 by scientist D. A. Madulid and co-authors on the rafflesia known originally as Rafflesia Manillana yielded the description of the new species; Rafflesia Leonardi of Sitio Kinapawan in the coastal town of Lal-lo in Cagayan Valley discovered in 2008; and Rafflesia Aurantis discovered in 2009 in the Quirino Protected Landscape, Quirino Province, Luzon.


Rafflesia lobata
Discovered in 2005 in Mount Igtuog and Mount Sakpaw in Central Panay 


Rafflesia Baletei discovered in 1991
In Mount Isarog and Mount Iriga range of Camarines Sur


Rafflesia Banahawensis of Mount Banahaw 
which Dr. Barcelona later renamed Rafflesia Philippensis Blanco


Rafflesia Panchoana of Mount Makiling discovered in 2007


Rafflesia Leonardi Sitio of Kinapawan in the coastal town of Lal-lo
in Cagayan Valley discovered in 2008


Rafflesia Aurantis discovered in 2009
In the Quirino Protected Landscape, Quirino Province, Luzon

Rafflesia Schadenbergiana, known as “bó-o” to the Bagobo tribe and “kolon busaw” to the Higaonon tribe of Bukidnon, has the largest flower among the Rafflesia species found in the Philippines with a diameter ranging from 52 to 80 centimeters. It has also the second largest flower in the genus after Rafflesia Arnoldii of Indonesia which measures up to one meter and can weigh up to nine kilograms.


Rafflesia Arnoldii of Indonesia

Scientists say more than 1.3 acres of forest disappear from the Earth’s surface every second or 75 acres in one minute. This is equivalent to 108,000 acres daily, and more than 40 million acres a year. Tropical rainforests are home to more than 50% of the world’s plant and animal species including the Rafflesia.

Dr. Nickrent explained that the rare Rafflesia species is a barometer of the health of the ecosystem. Once gone, he said, it would mean man’s source of food and other sustenance is either dead or dying.


Closer view showing the diaphragm
showing the floral opening


Closer view of the perigone lobe showing the pattern


Close-up view of the two anthers with pollen in a sticky fluid


Flower bud in a later stage of opening


Flower bud with scales still unexpanded


Side view of the disk from a dissected flower


Top view of the disk showing the processes


View from inside the flower

Section 27 of Republic Act 9147 prohibits the collection, possession, transport and trading of all Rafflesia species listed as a critically endangered species under Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Administrative Order # 2007-01 on pain of 6 to 12 years imprisonment, or a fine of 100,000 to 1M pesos.