Wolffia Record-Breakers

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Record-Breaking Wolffias

There are approximately 230,000 species of described flowering plants in the world, and they range in size from diminutive alpine daisies only a few inches tall to massive eucalyptus trees in Australia over 300 feet tall. But the undisputed world's smallest flowering plants belong to the genus Wolffia, minute rootless plants that float at the surface of quiet streams and ponds.

Each plant is shaped like a microscopic green football with a flat top. An average individual plant of the Asian species W. globosa, or the equally minute Australian species W. angusta, is small enough to pass through the eye of an ordinary sewing needle, and 5,000 plants could easily fit into thimble. It is difficult to say which is the smaller of the two, but perhaps W. globosa may be slightly smaller. An average individual plant is 0.6 mm long (1/42 of an inch) and 0.3 mm wide (1/85th of an inch). It weighs about 150 micrograms (1/190,000 of an ounce), or the approximate weight of two ordinary grains of table salt. One plant is 165,000 times shorter than the tallest Australian eucalyptus and seven trillion times lighter than the biggest giant sequoia. Another mind-boggling comparison is the size or volume of a single wolffia plant: roughly intermediate between a water molecule and the planet earth.

A wolffia plant is about 1020 power larger than a water molecule.

The earth is about 1020 power larger than a wolffia plant.

Wolffia plants also produce the world's smallest flower, a bouquet of one dozen plants will easily fit on the head of a pin and two Wolffia angusta plants in full bloom will fit inside a small printed letter "o" on this page.

See Straight Pin & Sewing Needle Used In Wayne's Word Articles

Tiny wolffia plants are commonly dispersed on the feet of water fowl, tucked neatly under the duck's bodies during flight. In the southeastern United States there are records of wolffia plants being carried by a tornado, and they have been reported in the water of melted hailstones. By way of comparison, the world's largest flower is produced by a parasitic plant (Rafflesia arnoldii) native to the Malay Archipelago. This bizarre plant lives inside climbing vines of the tropical rain forest. Like a gigantic erupting pimple, a rafflesia flower bud breaks through the bark of the host vine and expands into an enormous foul-smelling blossom up to three feet in diameter and weighing up to 20 pounds. In fact, it is sometimes called the "stinking corpse lily." The largest flower cluster (inflorescence) probably goes to a Bolivian bromeliad, Puya raimondii. The individual flower stalk may be 35 feet tall, bearing over 8,000 white blossoms. This enormous flower stalk is rivaled by some species of palms.

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