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.
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!
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.
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The Handicraft Villages of Kudat, Malaysia
Visiting Orang Utans at Sepilok
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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.
Have you been to the rainforest of Borneo? Were you lucky enough to see the Rafflesia? What did you think?