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‘The most charismatic and strange of all flowering plants’

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When it comes to parasites, these plants are the stuff of nightmares.

Called Rafflesiaceae, they have no roots, stems, or leaves of their own. For most of their lifespan they are invisible, living only as a small necklace of cells inside the woody vines of their host. Then, without warning — like the creature in the movie “Alien” — they burst out to bloom some of the largest flowers in the world. Their pungent smell of rotting meat or fruit attracts the carrion flies that help pollinate these plants, allowing them to seed and spread to another unsuspecting host, restarting the whole cycle.

Rafflesiaceae represent the most extreme form of parasitism, known as endoparasitism, in which the organism is completely dependent on its host for all nutrients. To those who study these plants, it’s one of the many things that makes them so remarkable.

“These are easily the most charismatic and strange of all flowering plants,” said Charles Davis, a professor of organismic and evolutionary biology at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and curator of vascular plants in the Harvard University Herbaria. “They’re just so bizarre.”

They are also a genetic mystery.

Source link The Harvard


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