Rafflesia: The World's Largest Flower

4/25/11

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but a Rafflesia by any other name would still smell like rotting flesh. 

While in Sabah over the weekend, we had a chance to see the world's ugliest largest flower in bloom. The Rafflesia is Sabah's national flower and seeing it in bloom is a popular tourist attraction in Borneo. The flower smells horrible, but the scent is intended to attract insects which help with the flower's pollination.  

The particular species we saw is called Rafflesia keithii, named after Henry George Keith, a former conservator of forests in Sabah. Keith's wife, Agnes Newton Keith, was an American author who wrote several books on Sabah. The title of her first book Land Below The Wind has become Sabah's unofficial motto.
Locals charge tourists to see Rafflesia flowers in bloom on their property.
To give you an idea of this flower's size, Jeff is standing a few feet away in the photo. This bloom was probably about two feet in diameter. Some species of the Rafflesia can get up to three feet in diameter.

The Rafflesia was named after Sir Stamford Raffles and is actually a type of parasite. The flowers typically have five petals, but the one we saw had six. The blooms last only a few days, so it was pretty good timing that we got a chance to see it.

If you are going to Sabah and want to check out a Rafflesia for yourself, try the Rafflesia Information Centre at the Crocker Range National Park. More information can be found here and here

14 comments:

  1. Great post!

    Glad you got to actually see the Rafflesia, not many people do. When I managed to see it, it was no longer in full bloom but a few days into it's dying stages:

    http://leonefabre.blogspot.com/2010/07/elusive-rafflesia-that-was-first.html

    Still a facinating 'flower' in anyones language!

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  2. @Leone, yes it is a fascinating flower. It looks like something out of a sci-fi film. We're glad we got to see it, too.

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  3. You're so lucky! There were none blooming when I was in KK and I missed one by 3 days when I went to Kuching!

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  4. @Tanya we didn't realize it was such an elusive flower. This one was "small" according to our guide. I'd love to see the enormous species someday.

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  5. Is it wrong that the flower is terrifying me?

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  6. @Kiersten not at all. It looks really eerie in person. It's massive and looks like it has a mouth.

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  7. I remember seeing a Rafflesia as a kid. I was horrified.

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  8. How close were you able to get? Could you actually smell its rotting scent?

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  9. @Tanya the closest we got was a few feet back as it was fenced off to protect the flower. The stench was not that intense but I caught a whiff of something gross as I walked by. Apparently the flower we saw had recently bloomed and the smell is most intense in its final days.

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  10. Ahhhh... seems like you guys took the touristic approach to see the Rafflesia. Judging from the pics, it looks like the main road to Tambunan or is it to Poring? Cause the locals who own the piece of land and spot a bloom would cage up these flowers and when it blooms, they charge a price to view them. Such an amazing industry. Anyway, a couple of years ago, I trekked up one of the mountains in Sarawak Borneo to look for the Rafflesia and it was such a achievement. You can see the pics here in my article - http://blog.malaysia-asia.my/2009/07/rafflesia-flower-at-gunung-gading.html

    Also, I do a lot of work for Sabah Tourism exploring the many unique places to be shared with the world.

    Thanks for sharing your experience guys!

    Regards,
    David

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  11. Alien pod looking flower. Glad you were there to see it and share.

    Thanks!

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