In honor of the spooky season, we’re trading in our typical talk of lavender and rose hips to unearth a few of the wacky, weird plants haunting grasslands, gardens, forests, and jungles worldwide.
The plant kingdom is overgrown with oddities, from a tropical shrub with a knack for the dramatic to a rare bloom that reeks of decaying flesh. And while they might not look like your garden-variety growers, they are a fascinating part of their ecosystem deserving of the same respect and reverence other plants get!
Prepare for a gourd time, and try not to get so spooked that you wet your plants.
Corpse Flower (Amorphophallus titanum)
Plant Type: Perennial flowering plant
Habitat: Native to the rainforests of Sumatra, Indonesia
Other Names: Titan Arum; carrion flower, carrion plant
If you’re one to stop and smell the roses, you’ll want to skip over sniffing the corpse flower.
This peculiar perennial plant wins best in show for one of the most bizarre and nose-wrinkling flowers in the plant kingdom.
Every five to ten years, when it decides to grace us with its putrid presence, the flower blooms into an enormous, 10-foot tall structure with a purplish inflorescence that looks disgustingly like a slab of spoiled meat surrounding a towering center spindle responsible for the Eau de rotting flesh.
Corpse flowers are one of many carrion flowers, but it’s arguably the most dramatic, making its grand entrance 24-48 hours before closing again for 2-10 years.
Rotting Corpse Lily (Rafflesia arnoldii)
Plant Type: Parasitic
Habitat: Tropical rainforests of Southeast Asia
Other Names: carrion flower, carrion plant, corpse flower
If you can’t get enough of that festering corpse flower scent, don’t worry! The rotting corpse lily of southeast Asia is another carrion plant sure to scratch your itch for stench.
While other flowers try to attract bees and butterflies with their sweet nectar, the rotting corpse lily capitalizes on an underutilized pollinator by inviting all the nearby flies to a dinner party featuring the scent of rotting meat.
Not only does this fetid flower reek of rotting meat, but this tropical plant is parasitic, sapping nutrients from its host plant to survive rather than spending its days doing the hard work of photosynthesizing its own food.
Black Bat Flower (Tacca chantrieri)
Plant Type: Perennial flowering plants
Habitat: Tropical forests in Asia
Other Names: Devil flower
Dracula may have preferred drafty castles in Transylvania, but the black bat flower calls Asia’s steamy tropical forests home.
With bracts that could double as bat wings and long, whisker-like tendrils dangling down, this rare plant could’ve easily stolen the role of any bloodsucker’s bat familiar in a gothic-style vampire flick. Instead, it prefers to spend its days looking fabulously fearsome by proving that black never goes out of style.
Best of all, the black bat flower appears in late summer and early fall, just in time for Halloween.
Japanese Blood Grass (Imperata cylindrica)
Plant Type: Perennial grass
Habitat: Native to East Asia, found in grasslands and wetlands
Other Names: Cogon Grass, Kunai Grass
Who needs plain old green grass when you could have something more edgy? That’s what Japanese blood grass offers, with each blade tipped in blood red.
This grievous grass doesn’t just look violent. Each blade of Japanese blood grass is sharply pointed with silica crystals embedded into the serrated edges. You wouldn’t want to walk on this stuff barefoot!
Appropriately, given its look, Japanese blood grass is an aggressive, invasive plant species that will quickly do away with native grasses. As such, the USDA lists it as a Federal Noxious Weed, limiting its sale and transport.
Dragon’s Blood Tree (Dracaena cinnabari)
Plant Type: Evergreen Tree
Habitat: Rocky and sandy soils on the Socotra archipelago in Yemen
Other Names: N/A
This weird plant is a relative of the palm tree and faces some of the most challenging conditions at its home in the rocky, sandy soil of Yemen’s desert regions.
You might wonder, “Why in the world is it called a dragon’s blood tree?” The name comes from its blood-red resin that ancient civilizations once used as red dye.
Like its namesake, this tree is built to withstand the heat. Its kooky shape helps it hold onto water throughout the dry season by collecting morning mists on its waxy leaves and guarding ground-bound droplets from evaporating before the soil can absorb them.
Purple Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia purpurea)
Plant Type: Carnivorous plant
Habitat: Bogs and wetlands of eastern North America
Other Names: Frog’s britches, huntsman’s cup, northern pitcher plant
Native to the bogs and wetlands of Eastern North America, the purple pitcher plant has developed a sneaky method to satisfy its hunger.
This plant traps insects by wafting the scent of its sweet nectar into the air. Once a creepy crawly gets close enough to take a sip, it’s too late. The slippery inner walls make escape nearly impossible for any insect that dares to venture in.
After nabbing its meal, the plant’s enzymes break down the insect’s soft tissue into a nutritious, gooey soup.
Brain Cactus (Mammillaria elongate “Cristata”
Plant Type: Cactus
Habitat: Grown in cultivation; native habitat includes rocky areas in Mexico
Other Names: N/A
Talk about a no-brainer for the weird plants list! This mind-boggling oddity is aptly named the brain cactus thanks to its pattern of grooves and creases resembling a human brain’s folds.
Perhaps even spookier, this succulent is technically a mutant! Due to an alteration in its genetics, its arms grow into wavy crests instead of outwards into arms.
Cape Sundew Plants (Drosera capensis)
Plant Type: Perennial carnivorous plant
Habitat: Cape region of southern Africa
Other Names: N/A
The Cape sundew is a carnivorous plant from southern Africa with tentacle-like insect attractors that wouldn’t look out of place in a sci-fi movie.
Those snack-obtaining structures leak a sticky, sweet-smelling substance that tempts unsuspecting bugs with the promise of an all-you-can-eat dessert buffet. However, once the bugs land, they literally find themselves stuck in a sticky situation as the sundew’s leaves slowly curl around the captured prey.
Cobra Lily (Darlingtonia californica)
Plant Type: Carnivorous plant
Habitat: Swamps and wet meadows in Northern California and Oregon
Other Names: Californian pitcher plant
It only takes one look at the serpentine shape, hooded pitcher, and forked leaf “tongue” of the cobra lily to determine how it got its name.
Like its other carnivorous counterparts, this California native prefers to feast on animal prey rather than photosynthesis. When a critter lands on its forked leaf, it’ll follow the scent to the underside entrance, where it takes a tumble into a pitcher full of bug-dissolving digestive fluids.
Sensitive Plant (Mimosa pudica)
Plant Type: Perennial Flowering Plant
Habitat: South and Central America
Other Names: Shame Plant, Shy Plant, Touch-Me-Not
Meet the Sensitive Plant, a bashful botanical wonder with a seemingly sentient nature.
But what makes this plant so shy?
When touched, shaken, or blown by the wind, the sensitive plant’s fern-like leaves fold inward and droop like they’re shrinking away from the contact. A few minutes later, the plant’s leaves cautiously reopen, ready to retreat at the next sign of trouble.
Venus Flytrap (Dionaea muscipula)
Plant Type: Carnivorous plant
Habitat: Bogs and swamps of North and South Carolina
If you thought the cobra lily was at the top of the list of weird plants that prefer an all-protein diet, you haven’t met the Venus flytrap!
It’s unlike its insect-eating brethren because this tiny plant has jaw-like leaves that snap shut when an unsuspecting insect lands on its surface. One study showed it only takes 0.3 seconds from landing to lunch!
Once the plant closes around its crunchy critter, the teeth-like growths trap the doomed creature in a cage of death.
Hairy Toad Lily (Tricyrtis hirta)
Plant Type: Herbaceous perennial plant
Habitat: Japanese islands of Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu
Other Names: Toad flower
If you’re stalking the plant kingdom for something spooky and stylish for Halloween, you’ll find the hairy toad lily absolutely ribbet-ing.
The speckled and splattered petals led to its name, reminiscent of a toad’s bumpy hide. The hairy part is where things get a little weird, though, as the entire plant is covered in downy fur.
While this species of toad flower is only native to three Japanese islands, you can give them a spot in your plot by planting them in shaded containers with rich, loamy soil.
Tulip Orchid (Anguloa clowesii)
Plant Type: Orchid
Habitat: High elevations in South America’s Andes Mountains
Other Names: Cradle orchid
Anguloa clowesii, or the cradle orchid, is a flowering plant native to the Andes that, when you look closely, holds a sweet but strange secret. The thick, waxy petals form a snug enclosure that looks like a baby in a basket!
While it’s less spooky than most of our other plants, it’s just weird enough to give these weird plants their rightful place amongst these bizarre botanicals
King in His Carriage (Drakaea glyptodon)
Plant Type: Orchid
Habitat: Western Australia
Other Names: Hammer Orchid
The King in His Carriage, a type of hammer orchid, is an impish little trickster with some serious evolutionary prowess. When the plant flowers, it resembles a flightless female wasp of the thynnid species.
Why? To trick the male wasps into helping it with its quest to pollinate, of course!
When a hopeful suitor comes in for a closer look, the flower’s hinged lip smacks him onto the pollen, ensuring the plant’s reign continues.
Brain Celosia(Celosia cristata)
Plant Type: Annual
Habitat: Origins unknown, but common in China
Other Names: Cockscomb, wool flowers
This bushy plant species is an annual oddball with crinkled petals that bear more than a passing resemblance to a human brain!
While its design is complicated, it’s almost eerie how easy brain celosia are to grow in your ghastly, ghoulish garden. Go with pink flowers if you’re looking for the closest thing to growing grey matter without undertaking Frankenstein-inspired experimentation.
Ghost Plant (Monotropa uniflora)
Plant Type: Herbaceous perennial
Habitat: Temperate regions of Asia, North America, and northern South America
Other Names: Indian pipe, ghost pipe
Eerie, otherworldly ghost plant is a perennial that prefers to lean on its fungi friends for food rather than photosynthesis. The lack of chlorophyll gives this freaky flora its translucent look.
Thanks to its freeloading feeding habits, this phantom plant grows in dark, shadowy spots on the forest floor. Combine that with the odd appearance of the ghost plant, and you’ve got a recipe for a jumpscare if you catch their hooded heads peeking at you in the darkness.
The ghost plant is “in review” by United Plant Savers as an “at-risk” plant, so if you’re so lucky to live in a place where they go, treat them with respect and admire them from their spot in the Earth!
Water Caltrop (Trapa natans)
Plant Type: Annual aquatic plant
Habitat: Freshwater environments like ponds and lakes
Other Names: Water chestnut, bat nut, devil pod
If you dare to dip your toes into waters where the water caltrop resides, you might face an aquatic apparition with sharp, horned edges that look like a bat in flight or a bull’s head. However, tucked underneath the water caltrop’s dangerous exterior is an edible fruit that makes for a deliciously nutty snack.
If you’re considering planting this invasive plant in your own pond, think again. It will quickly take over, choking out any other aquatic life by absorbing nutrients and blocking the sun as it spreads over the surface.
Strange Plants FAQ
What chemicals make the corpse flower stink?
The corpse flower has a complex cocktail of wretched, reeking ingredients, including dimethyl trisulfide (stinky cheese), dimethyl disulfide (garlic), triethylamine (rotting fish), and isovaleric acid (sweaty socks). The result is that the plant smells like a hunk of rotting flesh, which might be repulsive to people but is a fan favorite amongst carrion beetles and flies.
Why are there so many strange plants from tropical regions?
Tropical regions are like nature’s lush laboratories, where plenty of weird, wonderful plants like the black bat flower (Tacca chantrieri) thrive in abundant rainfall, warm, year-round temperatures, and consistent sunshine.
What are some of the weirdest trees?
Trees might not always grab the spotlight regarding weird plant life, but some strange specimens are out there. One of the most bizarre examples is the “Tree of Life,” or Baobab, native to desert regions of Africa, Madagascar, and Australia. These ancient oddities can live up to 5,000 years and have an otherworldly, upside appearance thanks to their root-like branches that shed their leaves in the dry season.
Why do carnivorous plants eat insects?
Carnivorous plants like the Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) have evolved to eat insects to supplement their food source when the soil isn’t rich enough for their nutritional needs. While it can seem strange, it’s a fascinating adaptation that solidifies the plant kingdom as the master of making the best of a bad situation.
What are parasitic plants?
Parasitic plants are nutrient vampires that latch onto other trees or plants, tapping into their hosts’ resources to sustain themselves. Some are sneaky, with roots that infiltrate their hosts’ systems, while others, like mistletoe, take over entire branches.