Monday, 13 December 2010

Rafflesia arnoldii

Enchanted by the mystical village of Batang Palupuh 16 Km N of Bukittinggi, Arman, a local man from the village and I entered the Sumatran forests at 9:30 in the morning, we could hear big crowds of Siamang monkeys in the forests, they sound like an indigenous tribe in a ceremony, we could see a group of what they call here "coconut monkeys" and then we started climbing into the dense forest. Our first encounter, a simple tree wit the top broken, possibly by wind. Arman said to me: this is the Amorphophallus tree, but the last flower they saw from that specific tree was 2 years ago, there are 2 more years to come for it to blossom for 3 days. I took photos of the emblematic tree, and collected a couple of small branches that were in the floor, that the wind had broken.  As we went uphill, the smell, exactly the same as our Colombian forests, the same feeling, but it is so nice not to see much Cecropia (Yarumos) or typical secondary forests, these are primary forests!
As we climbed Arman pointed something on the floor. Two buds if Rafflesia were finding their way out through the woddy vine Tetrastigma, the one that Rafflesia parasites (an  important vine to protect  so that Rafflesia is not extinguished). At the side of the buds, two dead Rafflesia, of a small species which I don't know, they looked quite particular and I was so insanely excited that I started taking pictures like crazy, of which of course none of them are good (it's like newborn baby pictures, they are almost always bad because the father who usually takes the picture is so excited they can not keep the camera still!!!). We continued climing and Arman screamed "you are so lucky, today first day of blossom!", and there it was, Rafflesia arnoldii siting in the ground, like a foreign colourful rubber toy just sitting on the ground. In front of it two more R. arnoldii, one which had 10 days of booming and was already brown and a bud that will open in about 3 months.  Yes I was the luckiest woman in the world today.

Kingdom: PlantaePhylum: Anthophyta
Subphylum: MagnoliophytaClass: MagnoliopsidaOrder: Rafflesiales

Family: Rafflesiaceae
Genus: Rafflesia
Species: arnoldii
Rafflesia arnoldii is a non-photosynthetic plant which the only way can exist is by parasiting the Tetrastigma vine. It absorbs all its nutrients and grows inside of the vine until it eruptions as a bud. 
The flowers are separate sexes, in fact the one I saw today and that you see in the picture according to the local guide is a male, as the smell is not very strong. The other flower, that was older and now looks brown, was a female. We could see the ovary of the flower a bit swollen, and this is why he thought this was a female.  I really have no idea if this is correct.  The smell of them is not strong at all, in fact, I forgot about the smell until I was very close to it and even then I couldn't smell a thing. I put my nose in and smelled for a minute I think, the smell is like something that is rotten the word in Spanish is "rancio", like water which has been sitting for a while and starts smelling funny, but it's not strong at all. So AnaK, don't worry! the smell isn't that bad !!!  The petals of the flower are rubbery, thick, and floppy, it really looks like a toy! 
I took many many pictures, I didn't want to leave the place, I was so excited, how on Earth I made it here to see this fantasy creater by nature?  Isn't it  the most amazing and beautiful mystery of life that such organisms exist?  How can a parasite be this beautiful, thank you Tetrastigma for existing!
I decided to leave, but as I walked down I couldn't stop thinking about all my Biology friends and classmates, and I will tell all of them when I see them that they NEED to come to see this, as a biologist is an obligatory dream to fulfill.  This whole trip to Sumatra enlightened me the hidden adventurous, exploratory and biologist soul I have, that I had been loosing or ignoring for the past few years. I am a biologist, I am in love with nature, this is the love of my life, is my true adoration. Without nature I don't exist, I don't have the power to live, to create, I just don't have the fuel. 
 In the afternoon Arman took me to the Sianouk cannyon, which  is formed by the Sianouk river. Nice place, but Sumatrans, just as Colombians think the river is the place to dispose objects that they don't need anymore. The bloddy plastic bags everywhere, bottles, toothbrushes, shoes, sandals, even mobiles... etc, etc... However the fantastic thing we got to see as we got more into the cannyon were what they call the "fruit bats".  Hundreds of them were hanging from the trees. Arman woke them up by whistling and clapping and they were not happy and started flying somewhere else, so in a second the sky was covered by bats, they looked like birds, but about  100 of these flying mammals where just flying over the cannyon. A long tailed monkey joined us in the quest for bothering the bats.  He climbed up a tree full of bats and started shaking the tree to scare them away, he climbed all the way to the top, just shaking all the branches and scaring them away!!! It was so much fun to watch this monky just having a ball! One rebelious bat decided to confront the monkey and stayed still, when the monkey shook his branch, he just opened his wings but I guess in a gesture of agression with the monkey, who seemed a bit puzzled by this brave bat.  Eventually the monkey got bored and left....


  1. ¡Lo lograste! Llegaste hasta la Flor... Viva Ana Cristina y viva tu experiencia vital. Observo que te detienes y contemplas costumbres, de las culturas y las civilizaciones. Aplaudo tu visión. Te queremos.

  2. Hai Anna! MAy I use your picture ofRaflesia Arnoldii for our EXibition about Indonesa @ our Campus? Thanks, Aurita