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Rafflesia – Stinky Flower and One Cool Bloom!

When I posted an instagram photo of the Rafflesia flowers, everyone bombarded my Facebook with comments. Apparently everyone has heard of this large, stinky Rainforest flower. But where and how do you get to see one?

The Rafflesia plant was named after Sir Stamford Raffles, who is famous for founding Singapore. It’s an exotic and strange plant, one that evokes a sense of science fiction since it solely exists as a gigantic parasite. It is entirely dependent on the vine, Tetrastigma. It only flowers once a year, and there is no specific season so it is hit or miss whether or not a visitor will be there at the right time.

Closeup of two Rafflesia.

As we drove down the road to Poring Hot Springs, we saw about three handmade signs advertising the famous flower was blooming and which day of the bloom it was. The sign also said how many minutes it was to walk to viewing area.

The World’s Largest Flower – Rafflesia

These stands are just on the side of the road, or behind someone’s house, or down by the river. The one we pulled over to had a couple of vans in front of us letting off people, and a few pulled up behind us as well. The tourists spilled out, excited to see the giant stinker!

To Rafflesia bloom together.

We almost changed our mind when we found out how much the locals were charging to see the orange beast. It was 20rt (about $6 US). This would probably be our one and only time to see a real Rafflesia plant, and I pay for that sort of stuff, plus I like supporting the locals, but boy the price was steep. Another family pulled up while we were making our decision, and they cut their losses. Mom had seen a flower before, so she passed, but Dad and daughter paid the price. We did too!

We covered the short walk, down the hill, over the rickety bridge and to an area signed as a the Rafflesia Garden. It looked like a permanent structure. The family that owned it was pulling in a fortune. It was one of those “communing with nature” moments. Just us and 30 other tourists, mostly Japanese.

Additional Reading:
Mt. Kinabalu National Park
Driving in Eastern Malaysia (Sabah)
The Wildlife of Borneo, A Photo Essay
The Handicraft Villages of Kudat, Malaysia
Visiting Orang Utans at Sepilok
Durian, The Stinky Fruit You Must Try
Proboscis Monkeys at Labuk Bay

Closeup view of a blooming Rafflesia.

Only growing in a few very tropical places on Earth between the altitudes of 500-700 feet, the Rafflesia is considered endangered. Along with the extremely limited area, locals believe the flower buds offer some medicinal advantages, and many gather them to administer to women after giving birth. Before the government included them in their Wildlife Conservation Enactment of 1997, the locals would clear away the plants as pests.

Nowadays they are encouraged to protect them and even to build these gardens and viewing platforms and charge exhorbitant prices to see them. It’s an interesting way to combat the loss of habitat. Now that they are making money off of them, they are happy to protect them.

The flowers are not just famous for their size, but also their smell. The only way they are pollinated is by insects that are able to fly between the female and male plants. They emit an odor of rotting meat to attract the flies, and hopefully that fly has been making the Rafflesia rounds in order to spread the pollen. This can be a very difficult thing since the plants don’t like to hang out with the opposite gender and all the plants are flowering at different times. On top of all this the flowers only bloom for about five days, so the time frame is short, short, short.

Jim and Devon on the boardwalk at the Rafflesia flower.

Have you been to the rainforest of Borneo?  Were you lucky enough to see the Rafflesia?  What did you think?

Author Bio: Corinne Vail is a travel photographer, food lover, and a perpetual traveler who has been travel writing for over 14 years. For many years she lived overseas in Germany, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, and the Netherlands teaching the children of the US. military. She’s visited over 90 countries, and she’s not stopping anytime soon.


Saturday 22nd of November 2014

I've heard about Rafflesia and its notorious aroma but didn't know that they bloom infrequently and without any seasonality. I agree the price maybe a bit steep but should be worth it there's only slim window of opportunity to witness them. I hope I have your luck of good timing when I visit Borneo.

Corinne Vail

Monday 24th of November 2014

Marisol, It was extremely interesting, and I have a hard time passing up hand-written signs to an attraction!


Wednesday 19th of February 2014

This is such a weird flower! I would like to touch it!

Corinne Vail

Wednesday 19th of February 2014

I would love to touch it and get closer too, but is not allowed!

Michele {Malaysian Meanders}

Saturday 15th of February 2014

I don't think I've ever come close to where a Rafflesia is been blooming because I think I would have certainly paid the steep price just to see it. There was a hope that I'd see one in the Cameron Highlands since that's one of the places where it grows, but I never saw any signs of one anywhere. Lucky you. Was the smell as bad as people claim?

Corinne Vail

Monday 17th of February 2014

Michele, We really didn't smell anything. I don't know if we just didn't get in close enough or if they sprayed it, but we didn't smell a thing. I definitely think it was worth our paying the price to see it; we loved it.

Amy @ Ms. Toody Goo Shoes

Wednesday 12th of February 2014

Wow, that's some flower! I've never heard of it but I'm glad you showed the last photo in order to get a sense of its size. By the way, I found your blog because you commented on what I see here, and as a travel enthusiast (although I don't get to do it as much as I'd like), I'm subscribing to your posts!

Corinne Vail

Wednesday 12th of February 2014

Well thank you Amy!

budget jan

Wednesday 12th of February 2014

I have heard of this flower before. Truly amazing :)

Corinne Vail

Wednesday 12th of February 2014

It is really an interesting flower, Jan. We loved seeing it.