A Rafflesia flower in the midst of blooming, sits perched on a rock high above the ground, clinging to its host vine. It takes several hours for the flower's five thick, fleshy lobes to completely open. This Rafflesia tuan-mudae is a parasitic plant native to Gunung Gading National Park in Sarawak, Malaysia. It is one of approximately 28 Rafflesia species found only in sub-montane forests on Borneo, Sumatra, the Malay Peninsula, in Thailand, and the Philippines. The Rafflesia is a rare, unusual plant, noteworthy for having the largest, heaviest known individual flower in the world. They are typically 60 centimetres in diameter, but can grow as large as one metre across. The Rafflesia has no set flowering season. In Gunung Gading, it blooms more commonly during the wetter months, from November through February. Nevertheless, it is difficult to predict seeing one in the park, as they survive for no more than five days.
The Rafflesia has no roots, leaves, or stem. Most of its time is spent inside the tissue of its host, the Tetrastigma vine. Few plants are pollinated because male and female blossoms in close proximity to each other must be open simultaneously for carrion flies to transport the pollen from male to female. The flies are attracted by a rotting flesh odour given off by the flowers. After germination, it takes one month before a small, dark brown bud appears. Then, another eight to nine months must pass before it matures into a Rafflesia flower. However, a high percentage of buds die from drought or heavy rain. (Brian K. Smith photo.)
Seeing the Rafflesia
Gunung Gading National Park is near Lundu, less than two hours from Kuching by vehicle. There are several Sarawak Transport Company express buses daily between Kuching's Regional Express Bus Terminal and Lundu. From Lundu, you can either walk or take a pandan bus. A more expensive but convenient option is to charter a taxi for the day from Kuching, the cost of which you could share with others you might persuade to join you.
Before going out to the park, you should check with the park headquarters – tel: (+6) 082 735144 – to see if any Rafflesia flowers are in bloom. Alternatively, you can make inquiries with the National Parks Booking Office in Kuching at:
Visitors Information Centre
Sarawak Tourism Complex, Old Courthouse
Jalan Tun Abang Haji Openg
Kuching, Sarawak 93000
Tel: (+6) 082 248088
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