If you find yourself searching for unusual and wonderful things to see while enjoying your vacation in Malaysia then you may want to see for yourself the largest and heaviest flower in the world, the Rafflesia flower. Discovered by Sir Stamford Raffles and Dr. Joseph Arnold in 18118, the plant commemorates the friendship of the two scientists – hence the full name, Rafflesia arnoldii. The Malay name of the flower is Bunga patm or Yak-yak, meaning corpse flower or meat flower.
The term Rafflesia refers to a genus including several different species of parasitic flowering plants which are natives to many South-East Asian rainforests, but the name is popularly used for largest flower known today. These plants lack leaves, sterns or real roots, living as endoparasites (plants that feed entirely from the body of other plant species called hosts), through the spreading of their absorptive organ deep inside the tissue of various types of vines. The only part of the plant that is visible to the naked eye is the flower consisting of five petals, which in the case of some species, like Raflesia arnoldii, reaches 100cm (39in) in diameter and can weigh as much as 10kilograms (22lb).
No Rafflesia flower can exist outside an area in which Tetrastigma vines grow. These vines are the only plants in the world that can host this endoparasite. Soon after the Rafflesia settles in these hosts, the buds start to appear on the surface of the vine, but many of them rot before maturing. It takes a year’s time for a bud to complete its cycle and finally become a flower.
In order to reproduce, in the last stage of its life the flower begins to smell like rotting flesh, mimicking a dead animal. This lures flies, which carry pollen to other Rafflesia flowers nearby, if any. As if matters were not difficult enough, these plants are unisex and neighboring plants are usually of the same sex, which means that the flies have to carry the pollen to flowers of the opposite sex and do this in the brief window of 3-5 days.
Because of the insufficient numbers and the brief lifespan, much about these plants remains covered in mystery. Unfortunately, one of the few natural sanctuaries of the plant, the Malaysian rainforest, is at its darkest hour, with hundreds of square kilometers being wiped out each year. In fact, excessive habitat loss is the main concern regarding the future of these majestic flowers, as well as many other flora and fauna with which they share habitat. There is, however, reason for hope as botanists in Borneo have recently achieved what it was believed to be impossible: they artificially grew a Rafflesia flower on a host plant.
Given the fact that its bud blooms into a flower at midnight during the rainy season and that the flower itself only lasts for a few days, you have to plan your exploration trip carefully while also relying on luck.