IT IS flowering season and the world’s largest flower is now in full bloom.
Extremely rare and hard to find, the Rafflesia arnoldii (otherwise more simply known as the Rafflesia) is the flower with the world’s largest bloom. It can grow to be almost a meter across and weigh up to a whopping total of ten kilograms, and it can be found right here in Asia.
The spectacular Rafflesia is a genus of parasitic flowering plants and it contains approximately 28 species.
First discovered by Louis Deschamps in the volcano-dotted island of Java in Indonesia between 1791 and 1794, the Rafflesia challenges traditional definitions of what a plant is at it is likened to fungi as it has no visible leaves, roots, or stem.
It lacks chlorophyll, is incapable of photosynthesis, and survives by attaching itself to a host plant to obtain nutrients and water. In fact, it is entirely dependent upon a woody jungle vine called Tetrastigma, which is similar to the grapevine. The only part of the “plant”; that can be seen outside the host vine is the five-petalled flower.
And when in bloom, the Rafflesia emits a repulsive odor, which people have said to smell like rotting flesh. This has given it its local names which translate to “corpse flower” or “meat flower.” That having said, it is this foul odor that attracts insects such as flies which transport pollen from male to female flowers.
Despite its seemingly repulsive smell, most species of the Rafflesia are highly localized and therefore endangered and vulnerable to extinction because of habitat disturbance and host cutting from activities such as land clearing and logging.
To see these exotic flowers in the wild, some jungle trekking and hiking will be needed. In Southeast Asia, the Rafflesia can be found thriving in the tropical rainforests of Indonesia, where it is the official state flower; the Sabah and Sarawak states of Malaysia; Antique and Compostela Valley in the Philippines; and the Surat Thani province in southern Thailand.
In Malaysia, the enormous flower can be found at Gunung Gading National Park in Sarawak or on the slopes of Mount Kinabalu in Sabah. Gunung Gading National Park is an easy alternative for Rafflesia sighting but do check ahead with the park service office to find out if any flowers are in bloom.
Very few people have ever seen a fully developed Rafflesia bloom and you would need to be quick to catch them during the flowering season as each Rafflesia bloom lasts for just a few days before withering and dying. And nearly perfect conditions must exist for it to bloom.