The world’s largest flower is also its ugliest

Plants regularly lose out to animals in the charisma stakes. In Pathless Forest, Chris Thorogood seeks to promote a new face of Southeast Asian conservation: Rafflesia, one of the strangest and most gruesome plants on the planet. Rafflesia is a parasitic plant, deriving everything that it needs from its host, spending most of its life as a microscopic thread hidden inside a vine. It cannot photo-synthesise and survives without roots, stem or leaves. Once every few years, buds emerge which take nine months to mature. Finally open, the enormous five-lobed flowers resemble slabs of bloody, white-flecked meat. Most spectacular of all is Rafflesia arnoldii, the largest single flower in the

The man who loves volcanoes

Being a volcanologist demands a quiverful of skills. You need to be in command of multiple branches of science, including geophysics, geochemistry and seismology. But you must also understand people for whom science matters less than sorcery: people living near volcanoes, for whom they are sacred places, homes to ancestors, sites of miracles, mountains where God’s intervention in human affairs is made manifest in ash, fumes and flame. And you have to be brave. When it comes to studying volcanoes, risk and reward go hand in hand. So a volcanologist must be willing to peer over the edge of a crater, breathing in smoke ‘inconvenient to respiration’, crying acid tears.

Indonesia’s mandatory hijab ban is a triumph for women

Last week, Indonesia banned schools across the country from forcing girls to wear the hijab, after the parents of a 16-year-old Christian schoolgirl uploaded a video of their daughter being forced to wear the headscarf in Padang, in West Sumatra. According to the Education Minister, schools that now fail to comply with the order will face sanctions. Before the ban, around 20 of Indonesia’s 34 provinces had mandated religious attire for female students and teachers in public schools. Millions of women in Indonesia, including non-Muslim minorities, have had to wear the hijab, with those who refuse facing intimidation and the possibility of expulsion. Public schools in Indonesia have now been