Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Finding Rafflesia

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? 



Plushpussycat said...

Hi Sans! I was just writing a post about your beautiful flower gifts, when I popped over to get your blog's url. Lo and behold, you've just posted too! What a beautiful fungus, and what an interesting adventure. I'm glad you avoided the stench. ;-) xo Jennifer

The Old Maid said...

Unusual fungus and what flowers it has! I believe seeing it yourself is a great experience. Good you found some umbrellas during your way back!:)
Hugs and kisses

BiWuBär said...

I have no doubt it was worth the money... what an unusual plant. I've never heard of it... it's really impressive. I only wonder whether it's a pity or not that you weren't able to smell it... ;O)


Margriet said...

Wow, what an extraordinary flower!!! I've never seen something like it. Thank you for sharing it with us.

Drora's minimundo said...

You were very lucky to get to see this very rare flower. Well worth the time and money spent. Thaks for sharing these photos.
Hugs, Drora

Lucille said...

What a mysterious and fascinating looking plant! Of course, it was worth spending that money to see it. This is quite an experience. Don't you wish you could have smelled it? I think it should be part of the experience. I think the jungle is so beautiful to see with all its huge and tall plants. I never knew people used them as umbrellas. I was very amused when I saw that although it's never fun to get wet. I hope it offered enough protection. I would have loved a picture of you with the jungle as a background. You look so exotic and gorgeous!

Daydreamer said...

My Dear Sans! Only You could entertain me so thoroughly with the discussion of a giant fungus whose flower stank of rotting flesh...! This IS truly an amazing plant.... and how fortunate for you that you were there at the right time to see it AND you avoided the stench! I must say that it almost looks artificial.... how HUGE and Mottled and Strange it looks! And the rotting one..... what an Amazing world it is that holds so many odd forms of Nature!!!
We are in the middle of the most Beautiful season of blossoming fruit trees over here.... their scent as heavenly as their sight.... so it seems even stranger to have such "blossoms" as the Rafflesia out there... lurking in the forests... but endangered and fragile... and Temporary. All so Temporary.
Carpe Diem!

Sans! said...

I wish I had experienced the stench, Jen :). I use to think I have a very good nose for smells but I couldn't even smell anything when I was almost over the flower. Maybe I must put my face into into the hole in the middle near the pods. :)

rosanna said...

Tee hee, worst than durian ??
I guess so, I read that nothing beats Rafflesia when it comes to stench... BTW I'd have experienced it too, it will hardly happen again in your life to see another blooming flower and it was certainly worth the money!
Hugs, Ro

Sans! said...

Ewalina, do you like the banana leaf umbrellas? RM 35 for one! Kidding :). We were all kids when they were showing a cartoon about a frog. I remember that frog also use a leaf, possibly a lotus leaf for umbrella :).

Using a leaf as umbrellas was what we kids did back then. Did you do that too?

Susan said...

You were lucky to see such a rare specimen!! Lucky also, you didn't get to smell that enormous flower, the tiny cousins that occasionally grow in my garden are bad enough, I can't imagine what such a huge one would smell like!!!

Maria Ireland said...

Wow what an amazing flower. Pity you did not get to smell it though I would be wary of putting my head too close it might swallow you lol. Thank you for once again sharing your wonderful pictures.
Hugs Maria

Kim said...

how wonderful and lucky to have experienced that! I would have spent the money also- although I am sure my husband would have grumbled. It is really quite beautiful- I think it would be hard not to get even closer and really inspect it. Shameful that man cannot co-exist on this planet with nature and things have to become extinct.

Emanuela Valenza said...

Hello Sans, I am Manu and I am a new follwer of your blog. I came to visit you through the blog by Birgit and I'm glad to have discovered it. Very interesting story and the pictures on Rafflesia flower and deserved to go to see her. If you want to come to see me are: The Laboratory of Manu
A greeting and thanks for your beautiful photos

Elizabeth S said...

Hi Sans! That fungus is really ugly! Not that there is anything wrong with ugly, there is a strange beauty in the very odd. I wonder how it has become so endangered when it is such a frightful looking thing and also smells so bad? Is it edible? Or is it poisonous?
One of my in-laws used to enjoy a cheese that smelled sooooo bad, that it had to be kept outside in the shed,it was THAT POTENT! It stank and yet he thoroughly enjoyed the taste of it. There are some things that are eaten that are unpleasant to smell but are nevertheless consumed. It would be interesting to find out more about it's culinary or even medicinal history. Thanks for the posting, I really enjoyed it!


Ascension said...

Hola Susan
Creo que m,erecio la pèna el dinero y el tiempo que utilizasteis en llegar.
Es una verdadera maravilla de la naturaleza.
Yo las habia visto en fotografias y siempre he pensado que era maravilloso que una planta asi durase solo 4 dias y luego se marchite.
Tu has tenido la suerte de verla en directo y nosotras de que siempre pienses en hacer fotografias fantasticas poara poderlas disfrutar todas juntas.
besitos ascension

Creations by Marie Antoinette and Edie Marie said...

I'm so happy you got to see it Dearest.It looks more like a fungus than a flower.But it has a beauty all its own.Are you going to try and create one for the palace? That would be great for a hillside effect.
Take care Hon,
Marie Antoinette

Eva said...

Wow!! I know that Raflessia in fact is the biggest flower in the know, my biologyst background. I really wish to saw one oh them. You are so lucky to live close to Borneo and other wonderful places.
For sure that worth it!1
As Rosanna says ...worst than durian?? :)

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