Ironically, the largest flower in the world is hard to spot! Growing in South East Asia, it can be found in the forests of Khao Sok National Park in Southern Thailand. The lucky hiker may come across one while exploring the trails of the park which lead to natural pools and waterfalls.
The rafflesia is a parasite, and as such, it does not produce any chlorophyll: its colour is brownish to orange, making it a challenge to distinguish in the forest. The flower gets its nutriments from an organ that absorbs them in a host vine. Only the five petals and the flower itself stick out, and as it is large (up to one metre) and heavy (up to 10 kilograms), it grows on the ground. It smells like rotting flesh, but thankfully, it does not stink enough to be able to be tracked this way. The challenge is on, as we start hiking up the steep slopes through the forests of Khao Sok National Park!
After about one hour walking up and exploring a few side trails, we eventually find what we are looking for: a rafflesia flower, by the end of its blooming. With a short life of only roughly a week, and after a maturation of 9 months, we feel very lucky! A few metres away, a 35-centimetre bud will become a new flower within a few days.
Contempt, we keep hiking to the highest point of the trail, before repelling down a 30-metre high waterfall that creates a perfect natural pool to cool down our overheated bodies. Following the river, hiking half on land, half in the water, we are enjoying the quietness of these remote parts of Khao Sok National Park, spotting monkeys and cute spectacled langurs.
Back along the main river that is quite challenging to cross without swimming, we enjoy some more natural pools and waterfalls before reaching the visitors’ centre in the village of Khao Sok.
Unfortunately, the rafflesia is threatened because of logging that reduces the footprint of tropical forests. Maybe popular culture will raise the awareness and save it as it is part of the Pokemon game!