Rafflesia flower in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

Being the world’s largest flower, the rare, other-worldly and beautifully exotic Rafflesia flower is a real treat for those lucky enough to see it when traveling to Borneo, Malaysia.

The quest to find this rare plant begins in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, where you can take a bus upwards of 1,500m through thick pockets of Bornean mist to the Tambunan waterfall. Then the trail leads into the forest; scrambling through the trees, stepping round enormous buttresses and over fallen logs you come to a clearing, and there it is, lying on the ground in splendid isolation: the unmistakable blood-red bloom, spotted with white markings – a lone and beautiful Rafflesia. Not only known for its size but also for its unique odor, the flower’s smell is similar to that of rotting flesh which explains why it’s commonly referred to as the “corpse flower”.

The unpleasant smell is, surprisingly, the way how Rafflesia attracts prey for its reproduction. Unusually for a flower it doesn’t have any leaves, stems or roots as it’s a parasite, attaching itself to forest vines. Over the space of a year, from a tiny bud, it swells to a ball and eventually bursts into a Rafflesia flower which can be over 100cm in diameter and weigh up to 10kg. Rafflesia flowers may bloom unexpectedly any time of year and when it does bloom, it usually lasts less than a week. So to be able to have a close look at this rare flower is a real challenge of luck.

Although challenging, viewing a Rafflesia flower in bloom may be possible and will be a great memory of your trip to Southeast Asia!

Rafflesia flower in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia