Rafflesia arnoldii, the corpse flower or giant padma, is a species of flowering plant in the parasitic genus Rafflesia. It is noted for producing the largest individual flower on Earth. It has a strong and unpleasant odor of decaying flesh. It is native to the rainforests of Sumatra and Borneo. Although there are some plants with larger flowering organs like the titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum) and talipot palm (Corypha umbraculifera), those are technically clusters of many flowers.
Rafflesia arnoldii is one of the three national flowers in Indonesia, the other two being the white jasmine (Jasminum sambac) and moon orchid (Phalaenopsis amabilis). It was officially recognized as a national “rare flower” (Indonesian: puspa langka) in Presidential Decree No. 4 in 1993.
In 1818 the British surgeon Joseph Arnold collected a specimen of another Rafflesia species found by a Malay servant in a part of Sumatra, then a British colony called British Bencoolen (now Bengkulu), during an expedition run by the recently appointed Lieutenant-Governor of Bencoolen, Stamford Raffles. Arnold contracted a fever and died soon after the discovery, the preserved material being sent to Banks. Banks passed on the materials, and the honour to study them was given to Robert Brown. The British Museum‘s resident botanical artist Franz Bauer was commissioned to make illustrations of the new plants. Brown eventually gave a speech before the June 1820 meeting of the Linnean Society of London, where he first introduced the genus and its until then two species. Brown gave the generic name Rafflesia in honour of Raffles. Bauer completed his pictures some time in mid-1821, but the actual article on the subject continued to languish.
William Jack, Arnold’s successor in the Sumatran Bencoolen colony, recollected the plant and was the first to officially describe the new species under the name R. titan in 1820. It is thought quite likely that Jack rushed the name to publication because he feared that the French might publish what they knew of the species, and thus rob the British of potential ‘glory’. Apparently aware of Jack’s work, Brown finally had the article published in the Transactions of the Linnean Society a year later, formally introducing the name R. arnoldii.