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News Corner - The Star, Malaysia  Date:

Rafflesia Found Beside Highway

GERIK: Droves of people have been drawn to a rubber estate located beside the East-West Highway to get a close look at a Rafflesia Azlanii plant in full bloom. 

The crowd gathered at a Felda-owned rubber-replanting scheme at Bersia, about 20km from here, are mainly academicians, undergraduates, forestry officers and nature lovers, including foreign tourists. 

“Previously, nature lovers had to spend hours hiking or be ferried by boats deep into the Belum forest to see such a plant. Now they need only spend about 30 minutes of their precious time to experience a wonder of nature growing just beside the highway,” said Ishak Yahaya, 35, who has assumed the role of tour guide at the site. 

“I was jobless previously but now I am looking after these beautiful flower,” said Ishak who is from the nearby Kampung Bogor. 

Ishak said with the help of a professor from a local university who often frequented the site with his students, an appeal letter was recently sent to the Land Development Authority to preserve the location where at least nine clusters, most of the Rafflesia Azlanii and Rafflesia Cantleyi species are found growing in an area of about 5ha. 

Ishak said what he feared most now was that some people might harvest them as the dried petals of the flower had traditionally been used for post-natal medication. 

He added that he had accidentally stumbled on the rafflesia while searching for herbs, a common economic activity among villagers in the Hulu Perak district. 

Hulu Perak district officer Abdul Karim Osman said he visited the site yesterday and was impressed with the discovery. 

“It will be a good tourism product for this district,” he said, adding that an information kiosk would be set up at the highway’s rest and recreation area. 

He would also discuss the preservation of the site with Felda.  

According to records, the Rafflesia Azlanii was named after the Sultan of Perak Sultan Azlan Shah in 2003 following an expedition to the Royal Belum forest reserve by a 106-member scientific expedition led by Prof Dr Abdul Latif Mohamad. 

The Rafflesia Azlanii, which measures 43cm in diameter, was first discover in Sungai Halong in Belum during an earlier expedition in 1993. 

Prior to its discovery, there were seven species of the rafflesia of which three, namely Rafflesia Cantleyi, Rafflesia Kerrii and RafflesiaHasseltii are found in Perak.  






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There is even more to tell of its ‘discovery’ and its claim to fame as the largest flower on earth. In the year 1818, Sir Stamford Raffles was posted as Governor to Bencoolen in Sumatra which was then, the administrative centre for the British East India Company for Western Sumatra. Raffles’s interest in natural sciences was insatiable.




A respected and popular member of the Royal Society in London, Raffles arranged and persuaded a fellow society member - Dr.Joseph Arnold to accompany him on an expedition into the interiors of Sumatra. It was on one of these expeditions that they stumbled on a discovery which was to puzzle botanists for a long time. Unfortunately, Dr Arnold died because of jungle fever before presenting the report to the society.





Rafflesia are endemic to Southeast Asia recorded 17 known species, the Rafflesia flowers have been found only in Indonesia - Sumatra and Java, Malaysia, including Borneo island and south Thailand. Rafflesias have small, brownish, scale like leaves and fleshy, foul-smelling flowers of various sizes from few inches to meter big in diameter. Rafflesia classified as parasite, which means it just takes the nutrient out of its host.



The Rafflesia can be found at altitudes of between 500 and 700 meters in the forests of Malaysia, Southern Thailand, Sumatra and Java in Indonesia. In these tropical rainforests, the climate is continuously warm and humid, with very high humidity. The Rafflesia is rare and fairly hard to locate. It is especially difficult to see in bloom; the buds take up to 10 months to develop and the blossom lasts for just a few days. However, how many these strange plants are survived in primary rainforest is still unknown.





The cabbages like bugs that produce before blooming are size of cabbage. The large fleshy flower is what we usually notice; this is the flower’s sexual organ. There is a deep well in the centre of the flower containing a central raised disc that supports many vertical spines. The sexual organs are located beneath the rim of the disk, and male and female flowers are separate.



The reddish brown colors of the petals, sprinkled with white freckles exudes act most unpleasant stench, similar to rotting flesh or carrion. Some people believe that the stench attracts flies and insects which help disperse the seeds. Others believe that large animals could be agents for this seed dispersal. In order for the seed to germinate, it was found that the vine of the host plant must be damaged in some way so that the filaments of the seed may infiltrate successfully. The damage to the host vines could be made by trampling hoofs of large animals. The seeds adhere to the passing animals’ hoofs and are transported to other places where they can find host plants to attach to.