Monday, March 29, 2010

Postcard from Borneo #7: Of the rarest plant of all

In case you were wondering: yes, we did see one.

Rafflesia keithii (I think): one of the 17 known species of this parasitic flower which appears, without leaves or stems, from the roots of the liana vine. This is something of a holy grail for enthusiastic plant-hunters: so I'm feeling very, very privileged.

This was the only one flowering in Sabah, around the area of Poring Springs near Mt Kinabalu where there's one of the highest concentrations of these extremely rare plants: private garden owners make rich pickings when the flowers appear, but since it's not possible to transplant them or grow them from seed you have to be very, very lucky to have one appear in your garden. A bit like winning the botanical lottery.

They stink. There's no way of getting around it: Capt WE Johns, in his eminent tome 'Biggles in Borneo', refers to it as smelling of 'death and corruption'. Exactly so. Just think forgotten packet of mince left in the back of the fridge for a month or so.

It's pollinated by flies, of course: nothing with such a foul smell could be anything else.

The flowers start as swellings appearing like toadstools from the ground. It can take one of these swellings between 9 and 12 months to reach flowering stage (and not all of them get there): and then the flower lasts one week before it dies.

Did you ever see anything so redolent of putrefaction in your life?


La Petite Gallery said...

Good Night! That plant is something I wouldn't want it in
my garden. I saw one once in Columbus Ohio and the smell was sooo bad. You are doing the most interesting things. Waiting for next post. I am so intrigued.


Plant Mad Nige said...

Oh good, the pictures are working today. I tried to see them on your post yesterday but Google would work and I could only read captions - talk about frustrating!

Fantastic pictures! We also paid to go onto someone's farm to see our Rafflesia when last in Sabah. I rather liked the idea and was happy to fork out, to supplement the land-owner's meagre income.

Yvonne - I'm fascinated to learn that Rafflesia was cultivated in Ohio. I hadn't realised that that any botanic garden anywhere outside Asia had been successful in growing both host plant and the Rafflesia. That's a huge achievement.

The Constant Gardener said...

thanks both - also fascinated to hear these grow in Ohio. I too thought it was only south-east Asia...

I think paying those who have them on their land is the way most get to see them: we were shelling out 30 ringgit (that's about 5 quid) each to see this one. When you think that's about two days' wages (and there were a lot of people dropping by for a look) it really must feel like you've hit the jackpot when one of these turns up.

James A-S said...

If you're talking redolence of putrefaction these are right up there with a teenager's socks.

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