An international team of scientists, including botanists from the University of Oxford Botanic Garden, have raised the alarm. The iconic Rafflesia genus, which contains the world’s largest flowers, is in danger of becoming extinct. The group is advocating for globally coordinated action to ensure urgent measures for their protection.
Scientists respond in this way to a study published this week that identified that most 42 species of Rafflesia are seriously threatened. However, only one of them appears on the Red List of Threatened Species of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
The research, published in Plants People Planet, points out that 60% of these plants face a serious risk of extinction, equivalent to “Critically Endangered” or CR. This is the fifth most serious status on the Red List, a seven-level scale used by the IUCN to assess the risk of a species. Only “Extinct in the wild” and “Extinct” follow.
Another 15 species of Rafflesia fall into the “endangered” category and two are already listed as “vulnerable.” The study also explains that more than 67% of Rafflesia habitats are outside protected areas and at risk of destruction.
Urgent measures to protect the largest flower in the world
“This new study highlights how global conservation efforts targeting plants, however iconic, have lagged behind those of animals,” said Chris Thorogood, deputy director of the Oxford University Botanic Garden and author. of the study, in a statement.
The Rafflesia remains hidden from view for most of its life cycle. It exists as a system of thread-like filaments that invade their host. At unpredictable intervals, the parasite produces a cabbage-like cocoon that passes through the bark of the vine. Eventually, It forms a giant five-lobed flower, up to a meter in diameter. It can weigh about 10 kilos.
The group of scientists, led by the University of Oxford, proposed a four-point plan to protect the world’s largest flower and its species. It is aimed at governments, research centers and conservation organizations.
They ask, on the one hand, that the Rafflesia habitats be protected. The plant is a parasite that infects tropical vines in the rainforests of Southeast Asia, in regions such as Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand. Southeast Asia also has the fastest disappearing forests on the planet. Additionally, many of Rafflesia’s known populations are dangerously close to growing human settlements.
They also highlight the importance of developing methods to successfully propagate Rafflesia outside its native habitat. “These could include grafting Rafflesia-infected vines onto uninfected vines, for species where habitat destruction is likely,” they explain in the release.
The key participation of communities
The other two points have to do with expanding research on these species and investing in ecotourism projects, which allow local communities to be involved in the conservation of the largest flower in the world. “We cannot protect what we do not know exists,” says the group of scientists in their statement.
Adriane Tobias, a forest ranger from the Philippines, highlighted the role of indigenous peoples, “the best guardians of our forests.” “Rafflesia has the potential to be a new icon for conservation in the Asian tropics,” said Tobias.
Today there are more than 150,300 species on the IUCN Red List. Of the total, more than 42,100 species are threatened with extinction. The risk affects 41% of the planet’s amphibians, 37% of sharks and rays, 27% of mammals and 13% of birds.