Big stinker: Up close with the rare parasitic Rafflesia

A five-petal Rafflesia ‘tuan-mudae’ with the size of 78cm in diameter was available for public viewing on April 21 to 25, 2021.

Kenyalang Portraits

By Nancy Nais

LUNDU, April 26: Sighting the world’s largest flower, the Rafflesia, is rare.

So the moment Gunung Gading National Park, home to this rare parasitic plant announced there was a bloom via an update on their official Facebook page, a group of friends and I decided it is a must to go because of the plant’s short life span.

On April 21, the park notified the public that they could view the latest five-petal Rafflesia tuan-mudae with the size of 78cm in diameter from April 21 to 25.

Despite being the world’s largest flower which can grow up to one metre in diameter, Rafflesias lay down no roots, and are completely dependent on their hosts which are vines called Tetrastigma, a member of the grape family.

If there is no Tetrastigma then there is no Rafflesia.

Two cabbage-like Rafflesia buds at Gunung Gading National Park.

Generally, nobody can tell where a Rafflesia bloom is going to emerge right up until they start to bloom and this process can take up to nine months.

Once fully mature, a Rafflesia will remain in full bloom for not more than five days before it begins to rot.

It also gives off a nasty smell which attracts flies and other insects.

Located in Lundu town, about 100km (two hours drive) from Sarawak’s capital city Kuching, it is relatively easy to find Gunung Gading National Park.

Arriving at the park’s headquarters around 9am, my friends and I registered our details manually in a log book and via the MySejahtera app at the security entrance.

We also had our body temperatures checked before paying RM10 per adult (Malaysian) as entrance fee.

At the park office, we were then briefed on the 300-metre jungle trail leading to the blooming Rafflesia flower.

Not come to 10 minutes of easy walking, the park guide suddenly pointed out two cabbage-like Rafflesia buds on the leaf-strewn forest floor and barely five feet away stood the beautiful bright red Rafflesia flower in full bloom.

As I stood in awe at the Rafflesia, my friends reminded me to hurry up with our photo taking as there were other visitors awaiting their turn to view the flower more closely.

Writer Nancy Nais poses with a five-petal Rafflesia tuan-mudae at Gunung Gading National Park.
Stink Lily (Amorphpophallus Paeoniifoluis) or Bunga Bangkai (corpse flower).

During our walk, we were lucky to come across two Stink Lilies (Amorphpophallus Paeoniifoluis) or Bunga Bangkai (corpse flower)that produces a strong and unpleasant odour similar to that of decaying flesh upon blossoming.

Another rare species of flora, it is unique due to the shape and size of the flower and it only blooms, on average once a year with the lifespan of around seven days before it withers.

Owing to the Rafflesia’s rarity and brief flowering period, timing and luck are important. Hence it is advisable to check with Gunung Gading National Park’s Facebook page for updates or contact its headquarters +60 82 735144 or the National Parks and Wildlife booking office in Kuching at +60 82 248088 to find out if any Rafflesia plants are about to bloom or are already in bloom.

Meanwhile, after spending about five minutes viewing the Rafflesia, we decided not to return to the park headquarters just yet especially after knowing that we are allowed to continue our journey and hike up to View Point No. 1.

Signboard at Gunung Gading National Park showing a map of the park and the various trails.
Clockwise from left: Sylvia Ragai, Verolyn Gabriel, Doria John, Nancy Nais and Janice Mujah pose for a photo during a visit to Gunung Gading National Park to view Rafflesia in bloom.

Gunung Gading has a number of jungle trails—ranging from easy to moderate to extremely challenging—winding through the forest, passing a series of waterfalls.

Checking trail difficulty level which shows ‘extreme’ for View Point and ‘moderate’ for Lintang Trail, we chose the latter. The 4.43km-long trail took us one hour and 45 minutes to complete the loop trail.

Basically, it is preferable for visitors to be physically fit for the trek they plan to take, including for the Gunung Gading Summit trail which takes three to four hours one way as it involves some serious hiking terrain and therefore trekkers must wear a good pair of hiking shoes.

On the other hand, we would strongly suggest the park management consider maintaining or renovating the trails as there are many broken wooden walkways, no safety ropes along the Lintang trail and to post clearer signage. — DayakDaily