[SWARM OF INSECTS BUZZING]
Layers of blotchy red flesh lie on the forest floor. A putrid odor
rises attracting swarms of carrion flies. The flies think it's an
animal carcass. But it's not. It's a flower.
[SCIENCE NOTE THEME]
It's called the rafflesia, and it's the world's biggest and smelliest
flower. The bizarre plant, grows in Indonesia and instead of a sweet
smell it mimics a dead animal to attract pollinating insects. It's
always been thought to be something of an orphan. But researchers
writing in the journal, Science say they've finally found the
rafflesia's true family. And it turns out one of its closest relatives
is the beloved poinsettia. They're both members of the Euphorbiaceae-
or surge- family, which also includes such familiar favorites as Irish
bells and rubber trees.
Nailing down the exact lineage of the rafflesia
was a challenge for Harvard University plant biologist, Charles Davis
and his team. Plants can usually be identified by looking for molecular
markers related to photosynthesis. But the rafflesia doesn't
photosynthesize. It's a parasite, feeding on nutrients from nearby
plants. So the researchers had to delve into its genome to find clues
about its family.
And it's an ancient family. The rafflesia dates back to the days of the dinosaurs, making it one of the first flowers on earth.
VIGEANT: While the dinos might be gone, this beastly flower is still stinking it up.
VIGEANT: That's this week's note on emerging science, I'm Meghan Vigeant.