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.
Well… let’s start with the buttresses then:
Butterflies…. well, they were just everywhere.
(we took ages wondering what this lot were so excited about: was it that bit of brightly-coloured plastic? Or something rather more yucky? We decided probably the latter, so didn’t go and investigate).
Did you know that birds can’t see at night? So if, as happened in this case, you chance upon a snoozing kingfisher by the riverbank, it will freeze and hope you don’t see it rather than fly off since it’s worried it might fly into something. We could have reached out and picked this one off the branch above our heads: it would have just about fitted into the palm of my hand.
Nepenthes, as they should more properly be known, are something of a Borneo speciality. There are 32 known varieties on the island: many are found nowhere else on earth.
In case you’ve been hiding your head under a pile of sand for the last decade or so, pitcher plants are famous for ‘eating’ live creatures. Those quotation marks are advised: actually what they do is dissolve flies, insects and anything up to a small mouse in digestive juices held in those curious jug-like bladders. They may be ghoulish but there’s a certain fascination about them: and maybe even beauty. They do also flower (safely high above where the pitchers grow, so beneficial pollinating insects aren’t accidentally eaten by their host).
I wasn’t visiting Borneo at the best time to see pitchers, as the dry season was well set in and most of them had dried into brown, papery husks: but there were a few spectacular specimens about which gave me just a glimpse of what might be out there.
… and an unknown variety, possibly another N. burbidgeae but mis-labelled as N. rajah – the largest pitcher plant in Borneo and one I’d dearly love to see (about four times the size of this one). I didn’t have a chance to root around for any other labels as I was a little preoccupied in preventing the Chinese lady next to me throwing stones in to this one’s mouth to see if she could make it close. I gave her a very polite lecture on the habits of pitcher plants and the difference between them and Venus flytraps, and she was rather touchingly grateful and thereafter assumed I was a tour guide. She was very smiley, though obviously habitually misguided.
(Actually I do know what this one is. It’s the Rothschild Slipper Orchid (Paphiopedilum rothschildianum): phenomenally rare, and flowering its heart out just for us.)
Yes, it is. Six feet long and only ‘mildly’ venomous. These mangrove snakes were not only hanging over our heads in trees in a mildly terrifying way but also slithering around among our riverside huts. Oh yes, and there were pythons too. And crocodiles in the river.
And this, of course, was what we were all there for (well, that and in my case, the rare plants). Orang-utans have now lost 80% of their natural habitat and are increasingly confined, as this one was, to rehabilitation centres like the one at Sepilok.
Wild datura trees on top of a hill
Hibiscus growing on the same hill: a possible garden escapee, I thought
A wierd and wonderful ginger flower bud; this one in the Rainforest Discovery Centre near Sandakan
One man’s weed….. Morning glory is the Borneo equivalent of bindweed. Wish I had that problem.
Apologies for the lengthy silence – I’ve just been off on my hols. And we’re not talking Torremolinos: I abandoned small children to ever-patient husband and set off halfway around the world to explore the jungles of Borneo.
Since there is, unsurprisingly and rather refreshingly, no internet access in the jungle, I thought I’d follow the time-honoured tradition of only sending your postcards once you’ve arrived home and hoping nobody notices the postmark.