Rafflesia Flower

After seeing the Harau Valley last Wednesday, I knew I wanted to go back to hike there. But I had to return to Bukittinggi first since I’d left all my things there. I also wanted to go to Kerinci national park, home of the volcano Gunung Kerinci, at about 3800 meters (12,500 ft) the tallest mountain in Indonesia outside of Papua.

Even though Kerinci national park is a butt-numbing 10 hours away by bus, I told myself it was worth it, went to the train station on Thursday, and put a deposit on a ticket for Saturday. The deposit was only $3, so I wouldn’t feel bad about backing out later.

Also Thursday, I heard that there was a Rafflesia flower in bloom and decided that I should see the it before going back to the Harau Valley. The Rafflesia is one of the (but not the absolute) biggest flowers in the world. It can be more than 1 meter across, and I’d heard that it stinks like rotting flesh. They grow in Sumatra and Borneo, though most of their habitat is deep in the jungle inaccessible to casual travelers like myself. There is a place near Bukittinggi where local guides keep a lookout for the flowers, spotting about 10 per year. Each flower blooms for just 5 days, and I was lucky enough to catch one.

I rode the motorbike out to the Rafflesia area, still accompanied by P an A on our last trip together. We parked our bikes, met the local guide Johnny, and agreed to pay 40,000 Rp. each for his services. The flower was a 20 minute walk away through the jungle.

On the way, Johnny pointed out a cinnamon tree. I knew that cinnamon grows around here, but this was the first time someone had pointed out a tree to me.

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A cinnamon tree, seen on the way to the Rafflesia flower.

Johnny pulled out a pocket knife and pried off a piece of bark from the tree. I smelled it, and couldn’t believe my nose.  It looks like regular tree bark but smells like sticking your nose into cinnamon powder.

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Looks like tree, smells like cinnamon.

The Rafflesia flower is named after Thomas Stamford Raffles, the same British guy of Singapore founding fame, who presided over the rediscovery of Borobudur and Prambanan during Britain’s brief colonial rule of Indonesia.  Well thank you, Sir Raffles, for perhaps your greatest accomplishment: introducing the ‘corpse flower’ to the West.  Raffles and biologist Joseph Arnold are jointly credited with the discovery, hence its full Latin name Rafflesia Arnoldii.

It’s unclear whether I saw the Rafflesia Arnoldii, the largest flower in the world, or some other variety of Rafflesia.  The one I saw looks just like the Wikipedia photo of Rafflesia Arnoldii, but I think the guide said there is one flower larger that is even more rare to find in the forest here.

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Rafflesia.

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This is not the largest specimen, but apparently as time goes on those petals will open further and it will be 70 or 80 cm across.

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Flies are attracted to the stinky smell, but I honestly couldn't smell anything at all. A little disappointing after all the hype about the 'corpse flower'.

After seeing the Rafflesia, we were given a hard sell on some organic kopi luwak, civet poop coffee.  Supposedly it’s incredibly smooth and sells for $30 a cup in the West, but I declined. As a non-coffee drinker I figured that the pinnacle of gourmet coffee is no place to start.

Rafflesia mission complete, I said goodbye to A and P, my excellent temporary travel companions, and headed off toward the Harau Valley.

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A and me.

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9 thoughts on “Rafflesia Flower

  1. i’ve had kopi luwak several times in indonesia and i think you made the right choice… it’s definitely interesting and there’s a whole ritual around how you’re supposed to drink it, but it’s not exactly the best thing you’ve ever tasted.

    i can’t believe the size of that flower! it looks like something out of a movie!

  2. great post!
    is A a local guide? would you mind sharing his contact detail with me?
    im travelling there end of april/early may
    thanks!

    • A would tell you that he is not an official guide. He grew up in a village nearby and is now studying English at a school in Bukittinggi. Showing P and myself around was his first experience ‘guiding’. He’s given me permission to say that his name is Abdul and pass on his information. I will send you an email with his info, and I’m happy to do the same for others who ask.

      If you are looking for guides who are experienced ‘fixers’, people who have connections and can help you with just about anything, and who have lots of experience dealing with the quirks of Westerners, then Abdul is probably not what you are looking for. I recommend the Bedudal cafe in the center of Bukittinggi for that sort of guide. The people there are very friendly, experienced, and professional. However, I always feel with professional guides, even excellent ones like those at Bedudal, that the relationship is about money on some level. So if you just want to meet a very friendly, enthusiastic local who will show you some interesting things (but maybe not ALL of the interesting things in the area), who would certainly appreciate some compensation but who is even more interested in practicing English and making friends, then Abdul is perfect.

  3. Very cool flower Andy. good choice to experience that and leave the coffee alone. The flower looks like an elaborate mushroom.
    Wonderful pict. of you and A.
    I most certainly have NOT seen a cinnamon tree before so that was neat too.
    on you go…Peg

    • Good observation…the flower is more like a fungus than a plant in some ways: no stem, no vascular system, etc. But it’s not a fungus, apparently, according to the people who classify stuff. Check it out on wikipedia if you want the details.

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