WMU News

Big, stinky flower garners international attention

Feb. 20, 2004

KALAMAZOO--It's big, it's stinky and it's caused reporters from around the world to track down Dr. Todd Barkman, assistant professor of biological sciences at Western Michigan University.

They've been calling him about the unique flowering plant known as Rafflessia, a parasitic plant found in Southeast Asia that has a bloom that can grow to some three feet in diameter and can weigh as much as 15 pounds.

"I think what caused the initial stir was that Rafflesia appeared on the cover of the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences," says Barkman. "It's the world's largest flower, it's big, red and warty, and it gives off an odor of rotting flesh."

In addition to Rafflessia's unique flowering characteristics, Barkman and some of his colleagues discovered the plant is related to the order of flowers called Malpighiales, a group that includes poinsettias, violets and passionflowers.

The finding drew media coverage from the New York Times, the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle and the Discovery Channel. He has also been contacted by the Latin American version of National Geographic, and several magazines in France and Malaysia. An article on Barkman's research also was selected as an "Editor's Choice" piece in the Feb. 6 issue of "Science" magazine, one of the world's most prestigious research journals.

"I think the media is always interested in covering the superlatives of our world," says Barkman, who says his interest in Rafflessia began when he first learned about the flower while doing research in Borneo. "I realized there were many unanswered questions, so we combined my background in using gene sequences with that of my colleagues from Malaysia, who had a background in Raffleshia's natural history."

Barkman has been a WMU faculty member since 2000 and is currently working on research funded by the National Science Foundation to study the evolution of genes in the tomato and potato family. Barkman earned his bachelor's and master's degrees from Michigan State University and his doctoral degree in botany from the University of Texas.

Media contact: Matt Gerard, 269 387-8400, matthew.gerard@wmich.edu

WMU News
Office of University Relations
Western Michigan University
1903 W Michigan Ave
Kalamazoo MI 49008-5433 USA
269 387-8400