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April 1, 2004

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Today we spent hours tracking down the Rafflesia, the world's largest flower and one of the rarest plants. We found a specimen in jungle clad hills a few hours from Kota Kinabalu. Round trip time to find flower: 7 hours. Actual time spent with flower: 10 minutes. Are we crazy?
The Rafflesia is one of the rarest plants, found only in Southeast Asia, and the bloom can reach 1 meter in diameter. The flower is large and beautiful yet smells terrible. It produces a rotting meat odor to attract carrion flies that pollinate it. The pollination mechanism also requires that male and femal bloom at the same time in the same area. This contributes to the rarity of the flower. The bloom doesn't last long and deteriorates after 2-3 days.
The Rafflesia lives as a parasite on a host vine, tetrastigma, and has become so specialized that the entire plant is only a single flower devoid of leaf, stem, or roots. Instead of photosynthesis, it obtains sustenance via thread-like filaments growing directly into the host vine. The life cycle begins as a nut sized, brown protuberance that grows into a cabbage head after 9 months. The bud pops open during the night to display its magnificient fleshy petals.
Mt Kinabalu soars as the highest mountain between the Himalayas and New Guinea - over 12,000 feet high. It's still growing at a rate of 5 millimeters per year.
Lumber mills decimate the rainforests of Borneo and replace the bare earth with coconut plantations. At the current destruction rate, it won't be many years until Borneo is a completely cultivated island.