Quin's Progress

Unga Bunga Bunga!

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Brace yourself, gentle friends, today’s episode of the QP is all about the Bunga.  Now, I know what you are thinking, and no, I am not referring to that naughty old chestnut of a joke about “Death by Unga Bunga,” nor to one of the best Bugs Bunny scenes of all time (although it did inspire the title of this post):

Get your mind out of the gutter!

Get your mind out of the gutter!

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Nope, I’m talking about the exotic Bunga of Borneo. And what Bunga they have in Borneo. Believe me, the Bornean Bunga will blow your mind, Baby! Get your mind out of the gutter. “Bunga” is the Malay word for flowers.

Lobster ClawEven if, like me, you’re not usually one to get all giddy about plants, you will want to do some Bunga hunting in Borneo. You will not be disappointed.

Mt. Kinabalu

Mt. Kinabalu

A good place to start is in the forests of Kinabalu National Park, around the base of Mt. Kinabalu in Sabah, the northern state of Malaysian Borneo.

Bornean Forest.

Bornean Forest.

I hired a local guide in Kota Kinabalu, slathered myself with a thick frosting of DEET and sunscreen, and set off for what would prove to be a day of botanical superlatives. In one day, I saw the smallest, biggest, and definitely the weirdest flowers in the world.

Tiny OrchidWe found one of the smallest orchids in the world, or at least, in Kinabalu Park. I apologize for the fuzzy photo, but that little white speck at the end of my out-of-focus sausage finger is a teeny tiny orchid. Just trust me.

Pitcher2

The Rajah.

Borneo is also home to multiple species of carnivorous nepenthes, or pitcher plants. Locals call them “monkey cups.” There is a liquor in the bottom of the peculiar pots that grow on these vines, which attracts and then drowns insects, or even small lizards or animals. The movement of the prey’s struggle causes the release of a digestive acid, dissolving the poor victim, whose nutrients are then absorbed by the plant.  Although they mostly eat bugs, the biggest of the nepenthes—the Rajah—has been known to consume small squirrels. Talk about death by unga bunga.

Bunga Pakma, or Rafflesia.

Bunga Pakma, or Rafflesia.

My main quarry of the day, though, was the elusive Bunga Pakma, or Rafflesia flower. This is one weird blossom. The Rafflesia is the largest flower species in the world, growing up to three feet in diameter, and weighing up to 22 pounds. They are entirely parasitic, and have no roots, stems or leaves.

Rafflesia Bud.

Rafflesia Bud.

The buds look like, and are the size of, heads of radicchio, and just appear on the forest floor like space alien pods. Those pods percolate for 10 to 16 months before they mature and open. It takes up to two days for the thick, waxy petals to uncurl and open fully. Rafflesia CorpseOnce open, Rafflesia blossoms only live about a week before they turn black and collapse in on themselves in a pile of ashy goo resembling a cow patty.

Rafflesia CenterDuring its short lifespan, the Rafflesia emits a most malodorous perfume, often described as that of rotting flesh, designed to attract bluebottle flies to pollinate it. The closer the bloom is to dying, the stronger the stench.

And the flies go bonkers for it.

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We found this Rafflesia blossom in the bamboo forest behind the home of a lady running a small catfish farm near the road, who offered to lead us to it for 30 ringgit. She said it had opened two days before, so it wasn’t too terribly stinky yet. In three more days, it will reek something awful. It was 35 inches across, just a couple inches under the documented record.

It's HUGE!

It’s HUGE!

Rafflesia BodiesYou could see the corpses of other recently deceased Rafflesia blossoms nearby, decomposing quietly in the sylvan shade, having completed their flash of weirdness, and yielding the stage and the attention of the bluebottles to the newcomer. Truly, the stuff of B movies.

35 inches in diameter.

35 inches in diameter.

I half expected Ann Francis to walk out of the trees in a silver lamé space suit and tell me to get my mitts off her garden before she called Dr. Morbius.

I so wanted to touch it. Its petals—actually, “petal” is too delicate a word, this thing had flaps like a dressage saddle—looked like they should be warm and soft to the touch, and have a pulse. But they are cool and turgid, like a succulent.

I hope I didn’t get any spores on me. I’ll let you know in 10 to 16 months.  In the meantime, remember, don’t forget to stop and smell the Bunga!

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4 thoughts on “Unga Bunga Bunga!

  1. I like flowers and I am in ore that you are experiencing these exotic plants first hand….sip the nectar of life my friend ……live, and be happy x Carol x from Newquay Cornwall uk

  2. Hey Quin!

    Just had a look at your site finally! We love it! Great to hear a bit more about the adventures we found out about in the jungle! We’re now back home in thailand after seeing Mount Kinabulu and Kuching! Gita got her bag stolen in Kuching!!! So rubbish, we lost all our pictures. Mehul and Gita x x

    • Hey there! That’s a bummer about Gita’s bag and the photos! I can send you some of mine, so you have some, at least. Do you use Dropbox?

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