YAY! At last, I saw the raffelsia in bloom! Did I hear someone shout 'Stinko beauty!'?? That's the reputation the raffelsia has got itself for the rotting flesh attracts insects and flies and carnivorous beetles.
I last saw the rafflesia as a golden -orangey 'cabbage' in the Belum Temenggor reserve in 2006. It was like striking gold! Alas, it wasn't ready to open up. There was to be a waiting period of about 3 days . The guide told us to come back.
This time round, at Kobob, Raffelsia Conservation Garden, Ranau, the taxi man, our guide saw a banner announcing Rafflesia in Bloom. It's like announcing a birth - except this is rarer! With no specific flowering season, news like this certainly causes a stir among people hunting for the rafflesia.
So, we descended on the rafflesia. I was already excited . A flower so rare, with only 5-6 days in bloom. Then, it turns black , its glory short-lived.
A lady came out from the house and we signed in the visitors' book and paid a fee to view and take some photos.
Down a path the lady guided us. Then we walked on a hastily constructed plankwalk. There had been a landslip and huge bamboos crashed around 2 raffelsias in bloom. There! She pointed to the rafflesia keithii- sitting safe in the plot of land. Gotcha baby! This is REAL ! - after all the countless images in the media. It was already the 3rd day and already signs of fading life were visible. The petals were slightly curled at the edges and the colour had changed, the lady pointed to our attention. Flies were flying around. But I didn't get a whiff of the rotting smell - ? too early or having to stand a distance away. 'You're lucky to see TWO in bloom close to one another,' the lady hastily added.
The other rafflesia was even further away from our eye view. Luckily it escaped the loose , crumbly earth and the clumps of bamboo that threatened to crash on it. 2 of the 5 petals were not open away from the centre disc as the land disturbance had caused them to flap inwards.
On a tetrastigma vine, we saw a bud. It was only about 2 months old? How curious - no stem, no leaves, no roots - the parasitic rafflesia grows on the host vine . It starts life as a dark brown bud and finally , the crowning glory of a 5 petalled flower develops. If you think waiting for a human baby to develop in its mother's womb is long. Think again. The rafflesia from bud to bloom takes 12 months! It weighs a hefty 9 kilo!
Raffelsia keithii was dicovered by Henry George Keith, former conservator of forests, North Borneo. It is endemic to Sabah and is proudly recognised as the state flower. Rafflesia was first named after Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, founder of Singapore Island. The latter led an expedition in Indonesia and chanced upon it with his naturalist friend, Dr Joseph Arnold in 1818. So it came to be, the genus is named rafflesia and the specie , arnoldii. And there are 18 species in this part of the world which includes Borneo, Sumatra, Philippines, Thailand and West Malaysia.
Definitely seeing 2 rafflesias in bloom was one of the highlights of my Sabah visit. Hope you will have as much or more luck than me . One thing is for sure - the natural habitat has to remain for us to glorify the rafflesias.
More visitors viewing the rafflesia from the plankwalk.