Flowers that smell like the dead

My least favourite plant for smell alone is hedge woundwort. It’s related to mint but is really unpleasantly stinky. It makes me shudder just to think about it. Luckily the fetid scent is only released when you crush the leaves. However in the forests of south-east Asia, the scent of Rafflesias have a much-more potent reputation. Named after Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, Rafflesias are also known as corpse flowers because they smell of rotting flesh. These amazing plants are found only in south-east Asia and amongst the 28 different species are some of the biggest flowers in the world. The largest Rafflesia arnoldii is found on Sumatra, Java and Borneo, and can grow to an impressive 1 metre across.

The smell of the super-sized flowers attracts flies but they’re not being lured to their death. The flies are actually pollinators and transfer pollen from plant to plant. Rafflesias aren’t carnivorous but they are parasites. Their roots spread inside their host vines.

The smallest ‘biggest’ flower in the world is Rafflesia consueloae. It was discovered on a mountainside in Luzon in the Philippines in February 2014. Unlike it’s larger cousins, it smells of coconut!


The collage is life-size with a Philippine 1 peso for scale.

Sky islands of Luzon (a poem)

Illustrated of a Banahaw tree mouse

Luzon, the largest island in the Philippines, contains the world’s greatest concentration of unique species of mammals. Of 56 non-flying mammals now known to live on Luzon island, 52 are found nowhere else on Earth.

Reading about these endemic mammals inspired me to write a little poem:

There are islands in the sky 
where foxes have wings and fly.
Rats run amongst the clouds
which cover the forest with misty shrouds
and tiny bats snooze
inside shoots of bamboos.

Mice grow their whiskers from their noses
to the tips of their toes’s
and search under ferns
for juicy worms.
Where are these animals from?
Only the mountain-top islands of Luzon.

— Sky Islands of Luzon —
by Rachel Shaw

Illustrated of a Banahaw tree mouse Banahaw tree mouse (Musseromys gulantang)

Mount Banahaw, LuzonMount Banahaw (my photo from my first visit to the Philippines in 2009)


Click on the picture to see my picture books featuring wildlife found only in the Philippines:

Picture books about Philippine wildlife



The premier of Danao: the live show!

Early in November, children in the mountains for the Ipo Watershed in Norzagaray, Bulacan (north-east of Manila) were treated to animated versions of Danao the Parrot and Mayumi the Forest Pig.

Volunteers from Green is Good, which represents environmental projects of the University of the Philippines Mountaineers (UPM), visited the area to plant trees and to raise awareness of the impact of illegal logging, kaingin and charcoal-making.

I was delighted that they chose my stories for their storytelling session and that they had made such fantastic costumes.


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Find out more about the books: Danao the Parrot and Mayumi the Forest Pig