Botanists from Oxford Botanic Garden join international colleagues to publish first global assessment of threat to Rafflesia species

Botanists from Oxford Botanic Garden have co-authored a new study assessing the threat to Rafflesia - the genus containing the world's largest flowers. 

Oxford Botanic Garden's Deputy Director Dr Chris Thorogood and Plant Records Officer Dr Sarah Edwards joined colleagues from the University of the Philippines Los BañosForest Research Institute MalaysiaBadan Riset dan Inovasi Nasional RI and Universitas Bengkulu to publish the study in Plants, People, Planet. It is the first global assessment of the threats facing Rafflesia, calling for greater protection of the plants' habitats and better understanding of existing species. "Alarmingly, recent observations suggest taxa are still being eradicated before they are even known to science", they warn.

“We urgently need a joined-up, cross-regional approach to save some of the world’s most remarkable flowers, most of which are now on the brink of being lost,” says Dr Thorogood. The study “highlights how the global conservation efforts geared towards plants – however iconic – have lagged behind those of animals”.

Rafflesia is a genus of parasitic plants that spend most of their lives within the tissues of the host vines, emerging only to flower. They are distributed across Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand. The enormous, rubbery flowers release an odour of rotting flesh to attract pollinating flies - earning the nickname 'corpse flowers'.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists just one species (Rafflesia magnifica) as critically endangered, but researchers want all known species to be added to the IUCN's red list of endangered species. In doing so, they hope to raise awareness of the threats to Rafflesia and to encourage new methods to propagate them. 

Co-author Adriane Tobias highlights the importance of including local communities in conservation efforts: “Indigenous peoples are some of the best guardians of our forests, and Rafflesia conservation programmes are far more likely to be successful if they engage local communities”.