Wednesday, 29 October 2014

A unique view of a corpse flower being pollinated #Rafflessia #Borneo

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Vines are incredibly efficient at hoovering up nutrients from the impoverished rain-washed soil of Borneo. They can grow incredibly fast, climbing the large trees to reach high where they can use the light to create food. But on Borneo this sort of success gets attention... and many vines here harbour a ticking time bomb. 

Inside their stems an insidious thread-like parasite penetrates its cells and steals its hard won nutrients. The parasite remains hidden for most of its life. Slowly it sucks reserves from the vine until one day, it prepares to reveal itself. 

Like a tumour, a brown cabbage-like ball slowly erupts from the vine. It grows larger and larger, and after many weeks it suddenly opens to reveal vivid bright red and white petals. The largest flower in the world, rafflessia. 


It stands out like a beacon amongst the dark undergrowth, the patterns resemble rotting flesh, and it's repulsive stench radiates deep into the forest. Flies and dung beetles are drawn to it, helping to pollinate the flower and spread the parasite to other vines. 

Very little is known about this peculiar group of plants, it's difficult predict when one will flower and until now no one has been able to propagate them. Within just a few days the flower turns black and withers away.

The biggest flowers in the world. This model in Kinabalu park is hugely over-sized but some species can be over a metre in diameter. 

A more modestly sized rafflessia - the flower that we filmed for the BBC 2 series 'Wonders of The Monsoon'

Rafflessia grows as a cabbage-like parasite on a vine, sucking nutrients from it's host.

The rafflessia that we were filming was already at least a day old and had started to split. I was able to get this unique inside-view of a fly pollinating the flower.

A unique view of a fly pollinating inside a rafflessia flower.