Monday, August 19, 2019

Is Rafflesia an Angiosperm?

Rafflesia arnoldii is well known as one of two contenders for the title of World's Largest Flower, the other contender being Amorphophallus titanum. Both are native to Sumatra. Rafflesia arnoldii has a close relative in Peninsular Malaysia--Rafflesia cantleyi. In March 1918 I was given the opportunity to embark on a detailed study of Rafflesia cantleyi using fresh materials supplied by the Forest Research Institute Malaysia as part of its development of a Rafflesia Research Center in the northern part of Perak State. 

Rafflesia was described and given it name by the British scientist Robert Brown in 1821. Brown followed up with another paper in 1834. These papers were remarkable for the way Brown described the difficulties he had with Rafflesia. Although he had classified Rafflesia as a dicot flowering plant because of its 5-petalled flowers, the structure of the female and male organs are utterly different from all other flowering plants and Brown was not afraid to say so. However, instead of stimulating further critical enquiry, Brown’s misgivings have been ignored. In re-examining the morphology of Rafflesia in detail I have come the conclusion that Rafflesia is so fundamentally different from other flowering plants that it should be placed in a separate category of its own. It is a flowering plant but not an angiosperm like other flowering plants!

However, molecular biologists have gone the other way and embedded Rafflesia in the angiosperms close to or within the family Euphorbiaceae. My first attempt to publish my findings was rejected because  the editor and reviewers considered the matter to have been settled by molecular biologists.

As a scientist, I have always believed that every theory is science can be reexamined at any time and that this is what keeps science alive and relevant. In this case, new evidence is provided by photographs of structures made visible by careful dissection under a microscope. Those viewing the photographic evidence are free to evaluate the evidence themselves.  

I was able to get this paper published in the Journal of Tropical Forest Science and for those who are curious, here is the link to the paper.

Journal of Tropical Forest Science 31(3): 286–297 (2019) Ng FSP

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