The Story Of How The World’s Largest Flower Was Discovered

Several researchers from Europe were exploring the dense rainforests of the Indonesian islands in the late 18th Century. This region was absolutely unexplored and several wonderful discoveries were being made every week. It was an exciting time for Geographers and Biologists alike, as several new locations, previously inaccessible and unexplored was now available to them thanks to Imperialism and the emergence of Global trade. One such French Botanist called Louis Auguste Deschamps was exploring in the tropical rainforests of Sumatra island in 1797 when he chanced upon a huge flower. It was almost 4 feet in diameter and gave off a stink like that of rotting meat. He made several notes and even managed to cut off pieces of the flower to show as samples. He had a notion that it could be the largest flower in the World.

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Soon after the discovery, he set sail, back to France where he hoped to publish about the flower and proclaim its discovery. However, the ship he was traveling in was captured by a British ship while at sea, as Britain and France were at war with each other at that time. All notes and samples were seized from Deschamps even though he proclaimed that they had no significance to the war. Without the notes or the samples, he could neither publish, nor proclaim his discovery.

In 1818, two British explorers Joseph Arnold and Sir Stamford Raffles discovered the flower after hearing tales from their servants in Sumatra. They took a full sample of the flower, preserved it and sent it by ship back to the British Museum along with notes and a pencil sketch of the live flower to be published and named.

The samples reached Britain and a draft was ordered to be prepared so that a good proper description of the flower could be added to the discovery publication. However, there was also word that the French were also preparing a draft and were racing to claim the discovery, even without Deschamps ‘ samples and notes. This made the British to make haste and they finally finished and published about the flower in 1821. It was named Rafflesia arnoldii in honor of the two explorers who discovered the flower. Since the flower gave a smell of rotting flesh, it was also commonly described as a corpse flower. The smell is actually meant to attract insects who will then help pollinate the flower and help it reproduce.