Lonely Planet Writer

World’s largest flower – which smells like rotting flesh – blooms in Sumatra

The world’s largest flower – the Rafflesia arnoldii – has bloomed in two different locations in the rainforests of Sumatra and is unleashing its famous scent of rotting flesh, the Jakarta Post reports.

This picture taken in Taba Penanjung, Bengkulu province on July 20, 2016 shows a Rafflesia Arnoldii 'corpse flower'.
This picture taken in Taba Penanjung, Bengkulu province on July 20, 2016 shows a Rafflesia Arnoldii ‘corpse flower’. Image by DIVA MARHA/AFP/Getty Images

The giant red flower has made a rare appearance in Taba Penanjung Forest as well as in Tebat Monok Forest in Bengkulu province, and both have been attracting curious visitors in the last few days. The plant is named after the founder of modern Singapore, Sir Stamford Raffles and the British botanist Joseph Arnold. It has the largest individual bloom in the world, it’s deep red with speckled petals reaching up to one metre in diameter.

Normally unseen, the plant has no roots or leaves and lives as a parasite inside the bark of a host plant until it is ready to bud, burst through the bark and into flower. It’s also known for giving off a pungent odour of rotting flesh which has gained it the nickname, the ‘corpse flower’. Rafflesia arnoldii is endemic to Sumatra and has become a symbol of the area, appearing on Indonesian postage stamps and tourist brochures for the region. Those who want to see the flowers need to be quick, however, as the blooms only last a couple of days. Despite the quick observation period, Indonesia is known for the richness of its plant diversity and has 25,000 different flowering plant species. Forty per cent of these don’t exist anywhere else on earth.

"Morticia" the Corpse Flower as shown in this picture from her first bloom in 2012.
A titan arum at Moody Gardens. Image by Moody Gardens

If you’re still curious to smell the scent of rotting flesh emitting from a flower, the titan arum – which is also often called a corpse flower – can be found in botanical gardens around the world. While the titan arum often appears larger than the rafflesia arnoldii, it is technically made of a cluster of many flowers. One began to bloom on Thursday at North Carolina State University, while Boston has two corpse flowers expected to unleash their scent this week, one at Franklin Park Zoo and one at Dartmouth College.