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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 26.djvu/189

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177
QUEER FLOWERS.

QUEER FLOWERS.
By GRANT ALLEN.

IF Baron Munchausen had ever in the course of his travels come across a single flower one standard British yard in diameter, fifteen pounds avoirdupois in weight, and forming a cup big enough to hold six quarts of water in its central hollow, it is not improbable that the learned baron's veracious account of the new plant might have been met with the same polite incredulity which his other adventures shared with those of Bruce, Stanley, Mendez Pinto, and Du Chaillu. Nevertheless, a big blossom of this enormous size has been well known to botanists ever since the beginning of the present century. When Sir Stamford Raffles was taking care of Sumatra during our temporary annexation, he happened one day to light upon a gigantic parasite, which grew on the stem of a prostrate creeper in the densest part of the tropical jungle. It measured nine feet round and three feet across; it had five large, fleshy petals with a central basin; and it was mottled red in hue, being, in fact, in color and texture surprisingly suggestive of raw beefsteak. One flower was open when Sir Stamford came upon it; the other was in the bud, and looked in that state extremely like a very big red cabbage. Specimens of this surprising find were at once forwarded to England (how, history does not inform us); and, after the place of the plant in the classificatory system had been strenuously fought out with the usual scientific amenities, it was at last duly labeled (through no fault of its own), after the names of its two discoverers, as Rafflesia Arnoldi.

The mere size of this mammoth among flowers would in itself naturally suffice to give it a distinct claim to respectful attention; but Rafflesia possesses many other sterling qualities far more calculated than simple bigness to endear it to a large and varied circle of insect acquaintances. The oddest thing about it, indeed, is the fact that it is a deliberately deceptive and alluring blossom. As soon as it was first discovered. Dr. Arnold noticed that it possessed a very curious I carrion-smell, exactly like that of putrefying meat. He also observed that this smell attracted flies in large numbers by false pretenses to settle in the center of the cup. But it is only of late years that the real significance and connection of these curious facts have come to be perceived. We now know that Rafflesia is a flower which wickedly and feloniously lays itself out to deceive the confiding meat-flies and to starve their helpless infants in the midst of apparent plenty. The majority of legitimate flowers (if I may be allowed the expression) get themselves decently fertilized by bees and butterflies, who may be considered as representing the regular trade, and who carry the fecundating pollen on their heads and proboscises from one blossom to an-