The Rafflesia is an extremely rare giant fungus found only in Borneo. The genus has 16 species, one of which, the Rafflesia arnoldii, has the distinction of being the largest flower in the world. The name, Rafflesia, was in fact attributed to the founder of Singapore, Sir Stamford Raffles. Apparently, Raffles and his good friend Dr Joseph Arnold were walking in the rain forest of Sumatra one day when they found a humongous and most unusual flower that smelt like rotting corpse. Deciding then that it was a rather opportune moment for naming a flower after themselves, they tossed a coin to see whose name should come first..alright, that was me mixing facts with fiction again. Seriously though, the flower Rafflesia arnoldii was indeed named after Sir Raffles and Dr Arnold. The flower was however discovered by Dr Arnold's Indonesian guide and not him or Sir Raffles.
Today, the Rafflesia is a protected plant as all known species are threatened with extinction due to massive deforestation activities in Borneo. Complicated by the very difficult way it reproduces, the chances of seeing a Rafflesia in the wild has been likened to striking a lottery.
And that was why I was so excited when we were told a day after we arrived in Sabah that there was one blooming at the foothills of Mt Kinabalu, near the Puring hot springs.
First sign of Rafflesia
Our journey to finding Rafflesia began with a 2 hour drive the day after to this remote village where the latest bloom was spotted.
First stop, ticket booth. We were already told by the tour agent that our tour cost of about RM 170 per person did not include the entrance fee of RM 35 payable to the villagers who found the flower. We did not mind paying the extra at all as the small fee likely went a long way towards the conservation of these flowers. Having a wild Rafflesia bloomed in your garden must truly felt like striking lottery.
Paying at the counter of Vivian's Garden when we were to go to Edna's
Nobody really cared nor asked who Vivian or Edna was. It was probably nobody's garden anyway unless the villagers named Mother Nature Vivian or Edna.
We did a really short trek,
thanks to very useful signs.
Excitement grew as we drew near and saw a small crowd peering over a fence.
Here it is. A 4 day old Rafflesia that was starting to wither behind the fence. I managed to take about 4 pictures of the flower even though I thought I would be taking 1000.
A shot taken with me leaning as close as I could over the fence so I could see what was inside the flower.
This was a dead Rafflesia, found very close to the one in bloom. We were told that this was the female flower- yes, the flowers are unisexual - as only the female retains its shape for up to about 4 days after it withers. Pollinators, largely insects attracted by the stench of the flowers must cross pollinate the female and the male flowers which makes successful pollination even more difficult since finding both flowers together is really rare.
Two minutes later, it began to drizzle.
Beating a hasty retreat, I didn't even have a chance to experience the stench. Walking back, I overheard someone remarking that this was the quickest way to spend RM 35.
Was it worth it?