Kinabalu Park

in North BorneoComments Off on Kinabalu Park




Kinabalu National Park is a World Heritage Site, -because of its mountain, its wildlife and especially, its vegetation…

WARNING: This story contains multiple images of an explicit botanical nature! 


…was created with the opening up of the mountain in 1964 and in 2000 was listed as a World Heritage Site. It is regarded as a special place, mainly for it’s diversity of animal and botanical wildlife. Because Kinabalu is a mountain of such height, out in its own, it has developed life-forms which have continued to evolve in isolation and not spread elsewhere. The park encloses about 750 square kilometres of largely untouched jungle and mountain and ranges from lowland to the top of Mt Kinabalu at over 4000 metres. It’s not possible to drive through it, only around it, and much of that road is poorly built and maintained. The main entry is at the Park Headquarters, the starting point for the summit climb, but there are other gates too. Off the main road from Kota Kinabalu and Park Headquarters are  Poring and Mesilau, both of which offer lodge accommodation, restaurants and guided walks and are visited by many. On the other side of the mountain are Sayam and Serimsin, both isolated and accessible only by 4 wheel drive vehicles. They were set up there as ranger stations primarily to control illegal logging; they have no accommodation other than camping sites and are much less popular. Their attraction is the isolation and chance to do some trekking in near virgin jungle. Like all the Malaysian National Parks, all the facilities are well kept, efficiently run and not expensive to visit, -although as foreigners we pay more than the Malaysian Nationals!


…is best known for its most popular attraction, the Hot Springs. These are sulphurous hot springs bubbling out of the hillside at the base of the mountain, they have been channeled into a bathing pool complex and are very popular with both those who have and those who have not yet, climbed the mountain…


We tried the facility, we found it was good for a half hour soak in the early evening after the busloads of children had left…

Among other things at Poring there is also the Canopy Walk, a suspended walkway high in the trees, the purpose being to see animal and bird-life close up.


At 500 metres elevation, it’s low-land jungle so the trees grow to 50 metres in height; are leafy,




and straight!


Its a long way looking both up and down from the platform and there’s great timber in each direction! For us any wildlife was non-existent, -the walkway seems to have lost its purpose as a viewing platform, it’s now regarded more as a thrill ride at a game park. People come and go far too quickly and their squeals of fear, -or is it delight, – at being at that height are far too frightening for any animals to stay around! -not that I have the patience of a bird-watcher either…

Apart from the impressive trees, we interested ourselves with the strange ferns





a spotted butterfly


and a few bugs…




black, -but impressive,  -none of those were midgets!

There’s also a jungle trail to a waterfall


and beyond it a bat cave, which is really only an overhanging rock, but by the lingering smell, clearly by day, inhabited by bats!

We were fortunate that Poring happened to have some Rafflesia in bloom, -so the visit was to become worthwhile! Rafflesia are the largest flower known, the blooms can grow to a metre in diameter.


It is a parastic plant, and though they may be the biggest flower, they may well also be the smallest plant, -there is nothing visible at all, as apart from the flower or the tiny flower-bud, which appears some months before the flower opens, there is nothing more than a few hair-like roots attached to the host vine. Although they flower all year round they are not always able to be seen, they live in only certain parts of the lowland jungle of Borneo and some of the surrounding islands of SE Asia. They’re always on one particular type of vine and as the jungle has been depleted, so have their numbers. Neither have they ever been successfully grown in ‘captivity’. Poring is one of the few areas where they still can sometimes be seen and these ones were on private land immediately adjacent to the park. The land-owners keep a watch over the known sites and when a flower appears will tell the Tourist Bureau in Kota Kinabalu, set up a ticket booth on the side of the road, knowing that for the next 5-7 days they will be assured of an income from tourism! As it happened, we were doubly fortunate, there were 2 in bloom simultaneously on the same property. After paying our entrance fee and signing the book we were very capably escorted by Sylvia,


the landowner’s daughter and clearly an old hand at this out of school dabbling in commercial enterprise…


she took us to where the flowers were and closely watched while we photographed each one, down in the leaf-litter…



These specimens were a few hundred metres apart, but both of the same species, Rafflesia Keithii.  There are 16 species in the genus, and the colour difference seen here probably relates to the day or 2 age difference between the flowers. It is the largest species and each would have been about 600 millimetres across, -not giants, -but certainly respectable examples of the type.

They are true flowers, with anthers and ovaries, (under the central disc) and on separate flowers, they are each male or female. They are fertilised by itinerent carrion flies attracted by the smell, -which is said to not always be nice!

This begs the question of how likely is fertilisation to occur, when they bloom so rarely and almost always in isolation? What chance is there of a carrion fly making it from a ‘boy’ flower to a ‘girl’ flower, in that order, -before the rain has washed the pollen off its wings??  Nature can be a haphazard arrangement… -or maybe there is more to it than that…

Unlike other flowers, they have a fleshy structure, more the texture of a fungus and it is hard to think of them in the same way as a rose, or a lily and there are parts of the flower, such as the vertical processes in the centre who’s purpose is not yet fully understood. There’s a lot yet to learn about the Rafflesia and its ways, -they’re same same, -but also very different…

It is a long way to go to see a flower, but it isn’t just any old flower and I’m sure people have travelled further for less, to me it’s well worth the trip!


…is a Park Base higher up the mountain side, at about 1950 metres. It is pleasantly cool and the air clear beneath the pinnacles of the Eastern Plateau of Kinabalu.


In the Mesilau Nature Resort there are several lodges, enough to sleep 220, a restaurant and various opportunities for walks or trekking all provided by the Park. The Mesilau Trail climbs up to the Kinabalu Summit trail, meeting it at Layag-Layang at an altitude of 2700 metres. It is a longer way to get to the top, but is undulating, less used and more interesting as it passes through various areas of quite markedly different vegetational types, -from stream side leafy jungle:



with moisture loving ferns


and tree ferns to rival the New Zealand ‘punga’;  fungi



and numerous tiny white flowers…as yet nameless…





-to dryer, open landscape views, as the trail climbs the ridge


with rhododendrons



(maybe?) costa,


and many others I am even less sure of…








but many look familiar, as if they should be related to some I know.


This is a Dacrydium, -peculiar to the Kinabalu area and found on the ridge top, along with varieties of leptospernum,


-apparently little different from the ‘T’ tree of Australia and the Manuka of New Zealand, evidence of us all being part of one big continent in the long distant past. Further on there are parts of the track with many begonias,



apparently no different from those we lovingly grow in pots at home and an orchid zone,


where there are plants just everywhere on the ground, but also growing as epiphytes





-and if you look for them, there are a lot of flowers.

The track descends, then rises again to a very exposed ridge top where the wind and mist blow freezing cold across it



These butterfly-leaved plants are a particular feature there, also peculiar to the area,


along with the more hardy sub-alpine leptospernum and other species of trees.

Beyond the ridge, there is a more sheltered, steep section where the track passes through trees with strikingly abundant, mossy epiphytic growth


and just as it meets the summit track, in poorer soils with stunted trees, the pitcher plants thrive;


they grow everywhere, forming a large part of the undergrowth.

This is the beginning of the sub-alpine part of the summit track, not so far below Laban Rata, where there are the raspberry trees


and the more open, grassy alpine areas, with leathery, flax-like plants


low growing flowers


such as potentilla(?)


and daisy-like others… (On the summit plateau of Kinabalu there is little vegetation, but among the rocky clefts a few hardy adapted flowers survive;


leptospernum with maybe another potentilla(?)


and this other that strongly resembles our NZ mountain cedar…

Mesilau Nature Resort also has the Nepenthes Trail,  a guided walk around the pitcher plants of the area; in particular, to see the Nepenthes Rajah, the biggest pitcher plant known and peculiar to Kinabalu. The walk is guided and the track has to be kept locked at all times to prevent people making off with the plants!


It takes a couple of hours, going alongside the Mesilau Stream and up on the hillside. There’s a lot more to see than just the Nepenthes as our guide points out more rhododendrons;


many different gingers, which although they look much the same as normal ginger plants, have the flowers at ground level



and they bear ‘ginger-nuts’


(although they’re not the same ‘gingernuts’ that I’m so partial to…) The stems of the plant rather than the roots are used for cooking locally and chewing a stem will settle gastric upsets,  -but eating a nut will cause constipation and flatulence! -as we were told graphically…


He points out the fungi,


and the mosses; this one in particular at about a half metre high, being about the tallest growing variety that exists…


There is the miniature sub-alpine betel palm, it has tiny nuts and grows to to just 2-3 metres rather than the normal  8-10 of the type for chewing;


and the very nasty looking rattan palm, -again the alpine version and smaller than the low-land form; the tendrels that rattan furniture is made from are shorter, but the thorns which are essential when rattan’s used as the old-fashioned whipping tool are just as fierce!


He shows us the small wild celery and how it’s use as a cure for migraine, -just by chewing some leaves, (it has a strong celery flavour)


as opposed to the celery pine also growing there, -who’s ‘leafs’ are in fact modified stems,


the true leaves being the little nodes along the apparent leaf edges. This is little different from our antipodean celery pine;


likewise this Agathis is a close relative of Huon Pine in Tasmania and the Kauri of New Zealand, -further evidence that we were all once part of the one big continent.




There are many orchids, some quite showy and cannot be missed, but there are many others which are small and hard to find;




this last flower being no bigger than a house fly, but with magnification, they can be seen to have the identical delicate features of all the bigger ones, -they must do, -to be classed as orchids.

Then there are the Nepenthes… Most of the ones seen in this area are Nepenthes Rajah,



the big one, found only on Mount Kinabalu;


but there are others, (maybe?) Nepenthes Macrovulgaris


and (maybe?) Nepenthes Fusca.


likewise (?) Nepenthes Tentaculata -about to open up. 



but the exact species isn’t always easy to identify, the colours vary with age of pitcher,  position on the plant and the specific local conditions.


Also however, in any area where species of the same plants grow close together there is likely to be hybridisation and this is Nepenthes X Kinabaluensis, a known hybrid peculiar to Mt Kinabalu.

Pitcher plants are fascinating plants…!!!  They’re both photosynthetic and carnivorous, supplementing what food they make from sunlight with dead insects so enabling them to live better on these poor ‘ultramific’ or ‘serpentine’soils, (hence also their growing only in those certain areas with infertile soils, along with certain kinds of orchids)


However, even so, they are very slow growing, -we were told that this tiny specimen is known to be 6 years old already and the mature plants last decades. Even the pitchers themselves last for up to 12 months. They are all vines, sometimes epiphytes, and some climb higher than others. The ‘pitchers’ are not flowers,


but modified leaves, growing as an extension from the end of the normal leaf, on a tendril as seen here. The pitchers higher on the plant are usually smaller than the ones below which can be larger and contain more fluid if they are on the ground for support; the Nepenthes Rajah pitcher is known to have a capacity of up to 2 litres. The lids do not close to trap prey, but usually are to keep the rain out and  secrete a nectar to attract insects, which then accidentally slip on the very slippery rim, fall into the acidic liquid, drown and are their remains broken down.


Even small frogs, mice and other animals may fall prey to the larger Nepenthes Rajah, (those pitcher edges are very slippery!) -and their bones too are absorbed in just a few days. Often there may be other insects or larvae (such as Mosquito) living symbiotically in the fluid, unaffected by the acid and helping to break down the larger insects that fall in, enabling the plant to absorb the organic products more efficiently.


The plants have flower stalks and bear separate male and female flowers every few months, -they’re small, white and unimpressive, -but are insect pollinated and produce many long thin seeds easily spread over a distance…     

and much much more…

The 2 hours quickly passed and with the guide, many questions are  answered, -but many more come to mind after we leave! However, I cannot return, there are places to go and although we had all found it interesting, I’m not sure that my fascination with nature is quite equally shared by the other members of our party…


Comments are closed.