Face to Face with the World's Largest Flower

Since I started content writing in 2008, my world has become bigger and wider. As I socialize with fellow writers, bloggers and bookmarkers, and look for subjects and topics to write about, I learned a myriad of things including the superlatives: the smallest, the biggest, the weirdest and other interesting and unusual topics about a wide variety of flora, fauna, geology and other sciences including the unexplained.

One of the subjects that I come across every now and then is the rafflesia. With a single flower that may  reach over 100 centimetres (39 in) in diameter, and weigh up to 10 kilograms (22 lb), the Rafflesia arnoldii of Indonesia boasts as having the world's largest bloom. Though it is best known as the world's largest flower, it is actually more than that. The Rafflesia is also among the heaviest, stinkiest, rarest and weirdest plant.

Once every one or two years, I would hear from the news of smaller rafflesia species found in my country, the Philippines.  But this year is different. I was so excited when I learned that I am only 30 minutes away from the second largest species, the Rafflesia schadenbergiana.

When I saw the first bloom that was shared on a social networking site to announce it's first flower of the season, I know that I will have a chance to see it!

On June 12, together with four of my friends (one is a biologist), we celebrated our country's Independence Day with the world's largest flower.

R. Schadenbergiana and bud

I prepared for its notorious "rotting flesh smell" by bringing a handkerchief just in case I couldn't take it. I was also expecting that we can start to smell it even if we are still several meters away. When we entered the small fenced area, nobody smelled anything. But after a few steps I was the first one to notice the faint smell like that of a dead rat. But the smell didn't linger. As each of us sat beside the flower to have our pictures taken, we placed our noses a few inches from the flower to smell it. Yes, it does have a dead-rat-like smell but not too strong. We even forgot about its smell as we posed for the photos. My biologist friend said that it will start to have a strong penetrating odor when it starts to wither. The bloom, which was about three-days-old looked thick and heavy. It was red-orangey and very warty. Flies and other tiny insects were busy landing and flying around it.

withering R. schadenbergiana

We stayed with the flower for more than an hour. Our position was not easy as the flower hid its glory in a sloped area. We need to hold on to the small trees surrounding it as the soil was wet and thus, very slippery.

About a meter away from the flower was a black bud which looked like a cabbage, or an old coconut half buried in the soil. The biologist said it will bloom the following month. About five meters away lies the very first bloom which already turned black in color as it has already rot. But it did not escape our cameras. We have our pictures taken with it, too.

The biologist pointed out to me the Tetrastigma vine, the host plant of the rafflesia. A few steps outside the gate, she also spotted the fruits of the woody vine looking like small green grapes. Their presence there meant that the world's largest flower will most likely start sprouting there as well.

fruits of the Tetrastigma, host plant of the parasitic R. schadenbergiana

R. schadenbergiana in the Philippines
There are 28 identified rafflesia species distributed throughout Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines. Ten species in different sizes are endemic in the Philippines with one named after a Filipino botanist, the R. leonardi. The schadenbergiana is endemic in the island of Mindanao. It was thought to be extinct until it was sighted in recent years in Bukidnon.

The presence of rafflesia near my city was first reported a few years ago at the Cinchona Forest Reserve, part of the Mt. Kitanglad Range Natural Park in Lantapan, Bukidnon. The area is fenced to protect the plants from wild animals. You need permission from the local government before you can see one of the planet's most notorious single bloom.

* Photos taken using a phone camera