Extreme Plant Design – Rafflesia

 Extreme Plant Design - Rafflesia

The world’s largest and most awful-smelling flowers grow in the rain forests of the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand. They are produced by about 28 species of plants in the genus Rafflesia. These examples of extreme plant design have the odor and even the appearance of rotting flesh. 

Rafflesia are parasitic plants that grow under the bark of woody vines in the genus Tetrastigma. The vines of Tetrastigma are also parasitic plants that use host trees to reach sunlight for photosynthesis. So you could say that makes Rafflesia plants parasites of parasites. Rafflesia plants grow inside the Tetrastigma vines so that their only visible part is the flower. They have no roots or stems.

The Rafflesia flowers have five petals and can be 40 inches (100 cm) or more in diameter and weigh 22 pounds (10 kg) or more. Because of the odor of these flowers, they attract flies and insects that feed on dead animals. Those insects transfer pollen from the male flowers to the female flowers, which the males outnumber. 

But that isn’t the end of this extreme plant design story. Tetrastigma vines have a defense mechanism to prevent the Rafflesia from growing and taking energy from them. They produce chemicals called benzylisoquinoline alkaloids that are related to morphine and codeine. Those chemicals sometimes prevent the Rafflesia from growing in the Tetrastigma vine. However, it doesn’t work all the time. Jeanmaire Molina, a plant biologist at Long Island University, is trying to find out why. She thinks that Rafflesia may have a way to suppress the Tetrastigma’s alkaloid production. 

Scientific American magazine quoted Harvard biologist Charles Davis commenting that this research into extreme plant design is essential to understanding the interaction between parasites and hosts. He said that “plants are incredible chemists.” We agree that plants are incredible chemists, but only because the Master Chemist has fine-tuned plants and all of life to survive and thrive on this incredibly well-designed planet. God has given us plants to provide oxygen, food, and a wide range of medical products that enrich our lives. 

In a previous post (December 4, 2021), we reported on the titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum), which is known as the “corpse flower.” It also produces the smell of a rotting corpse and attracts flies for pollination. Interestingly, the titan arum uses the same means for pollination, but it is not related to Rafflesia. Evolutionists would call that “convergent evolution,” but we call it evidence of a common Designer. 

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: Scientific American, March 2022 page 22, and Wikipedia