Amazing plants were found by naturalists in the Malay Archipelago in the nineteenth century. Being a naturalist in those days was quite the thing. Everyone did it, whatever their station. Stamford Raffles, for example, took time out from governing Singapore
to scour the forests for new and impressive plants. “Arnold,” he said one day to his companion, deep in the jungle, “I think we must return to the Rest House to bathe.” “That’s not us, Stamford old man,” came the sagacious reply, “That odour emanates from that plant over there. I say! Rather big, what?” And so was born the Largest Flower in the
World, and, after a long discussion, the two men finally agreed that both their names should be given to it.
I went in search of this plant myself, in the forests of Borneo, and found it. True, I was following a guide from the Rafflesia Centre near Kota Kinabalu who knew exactly where it was. He strode ever upwards through the
trees, his calf muscles bulging, and the gap year youngsters also on that safari merrily pranced after him. My wife and I plodded desperately in the rear of the expedition, suffering badly from altitude sickness, as we later found out, but at that time putting our languor down to age and spiritual weakness. We paused for little rests, even though the others were forging ahead, singing Val de Ree, Val de Ra! Anyway we all got to the plant in the end.
There were two of them, babies, and regrettably not opened up yet, as in this picture, but still looking like high class vegetables in Waitrose. I can report here that they are not so very big, more like cabbages. And they smelt just fine.
Or again we find the White Rajah, James Brooke, breaking off from quelling pirate hordes to explore the salt licks with a butterfly net. “Tuan,” he was warned by his trusty confidant Inche Kabin, “They talk of rebellion on the Rajang. Five praus have been seen off Tanjong Bokong, and they mean fight.” “Never mind that, Kabin, just hand me that relaxing fluid a moment would you? I think I see a rather fine specimen over there.” That butterfly was named after Brooke, and, remarkably enough, I am able to present here a facsimile of a specimen that I personally found of this very same species.
I found it on the floor at the Penang Butterfly Farm, a location easily accessed by taxi which I can heartily recommend to budding naturalists anxious to make new discoveries. The specimen illustrated here is available to any museum curator able to offer a reasonable price.
And we have, my wife and I, undertaken an outstation
expedition in search of the Pitcher Plant. I am pleased to report that, on this expedition, from which we returned well in time for lunch, we did indeed discover the Plant, albeit the specimen was somewhat shrivelled and wilted, this being in the Dry Season.
Here it is, and again, I just mention that this photograph is available for sale to any collector or exhibitor.
We took this photograph at Pandan Kecil (I think it was Pandan; it might have been Pondan) in Sarawak, and my understanding is that the great Alfred Russell Wallace stayed at this location on his way to Bali from Halmaheira, for a weekend break. Wallace, of course, is remembered for naming a very long line on the map. On that occasion, I believe, Wallace was asked “Have you found any interesting specimens today, Alf?” To which he replied, “Actually, no.”
This took place at the very same time that Charles Darwin interrupted Captain Fitzroy’s cartographical studies in his cabin in the Beagle, somewhere off Patagonia, to ask: “I say, Robert, are we nearly there yet?” And here, actually, is a recently discovered photograph of Darwin on the Galapagos Islands, taken by one Gunther, which was discovered by me, in an old book; I can’t remember which book it was.
Note the Berberis Darwinii growing near the top tortoise, behind which may just be
glimpsed Captain Robert Fitzroy and his boys.
Best of all, though, surely, is this plant from Borneo, but which I have also found in Surrey.
It was brought into camp by two fellows from the hotel who thought it might be of interest to the naturalists. They told the Orang Puteh that it usually lay limp and insignificant in the undergrowth, but that on occasions it set forth a rapid seven-foot shoot, very firm, if a bit smelly. “By golly, Ramsden,” said one of them, “That just reminds me of something.” Careless of the potentially highly embarrassing moments this might cause in the schools, they decided to name it after one of their willies.
The end. Now, pass me some of that relaxing fluid.