For most of the U.S., winter is finally loosening its icy grip. Besides freshening your wardrobe, cleaning house, or planning your next national parks trip, why not celebrate by admiring some flowers and plants, perhaps the most telltale signs of spring's arrival? Sure, you can stop and smell the roses, but why not also marvel at the rafflesia arnoldii, touch-me-not, Eastern Skunk Cabbage, corpse flower, voodoo lily, and Hydnora africana? While you could trek across the globe to view these bizarre blooms, in some cases, you need only venture as far as your local botanical garden.
Rafflesia arnoldii: Weighing up to 15 pounds and measuring more than three feet across, rafflesia arnoldii is the largest individual flower on Earth. While it boasts fleshy, burnt-orange petals dotted with whitish pustules, it lacks leaves and roots, parasitizing the woody Tetrastigma vine in the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra. Impressive still, Rafflesia arnoldii emits a fetid odor that some compare to decaying flesh, earning it the nickname "corpse flower."
For such a bold blossom, the Rafflesia arnoldii remains elusive, spending most of its time hidden within its host's stems and roots. The flower appears when its buds break through the Tetrastigma vine's bark. A cabbage-like head develops, eventually blooming and staying open for only about five days. Rafflesia arnoldii's rank smell lures carrion flies. The flies crawl down the male flower's central chamber toward the anther, which transfers pollen onto their backs as they brush against it. They then carry the pollen to a female flower. The projections emerging from the flower's center may help radiate heat and waft the carrion smell.