I love this time of year, especially Halloween.
This year, being the bizarre year that it is, I thought I’d share with you some of my favorite freaky, creepy plants that I’ve encountered over the years.
I hope they add a little Halloween spirit to your week!
1. The Carrion Flower – the creepiest plant of all (yes, that carrion… as in rotting meat.)
Several years ago, I was garden touring in Tucson when I stumbled across this gorgeous flower, perfectly placed behind this woman’s ear.
It was no ordinary flower, but the stinky Carrion flower (from this stapelia gigantea succulent.)
When open, it smells like (you guessed it) rotting meat.
Why would Mother Nature be so cruel to make such a foul-smelling flower? Of course, there’s a perfectly good explanation (she always has one.)
The stench is there to specifically attract flies which will, in turn, pollinate the flower.
Flies are SO convinced this is putrid meat they even lay their eggs on the flower, thinking it’ll be a great food source for their sweet, little babies.
Yes, the flower REEKS. But it’s so pretty, I just had to have one.
So needless to say, I’ve added a few varieties to my succulent collection over the years, including this orbea variegate (also called the Starfish Flower.)
I remember convincing my daughter to come outside to ‘smell this amazing flower.’
I know, I know – I’m such a mean mother.
But wait – I get even meaner.
I later bought this new variety, the huernia zebrina, aptly nicknamed the Lifesaver Plant.
When, you guessed it, a few years later I convinced her yet again to come outside and smell THIS amazing flower.
Needless to say, she now has trust issues.
2. Any head overflowing with plants
Just about anything will look a tad spooky when planted in a skeleton head (like this one spotted at the Ruth Bancroft Garden.)
Even sweet and dainty succulents like the ones, below, tucked here and there in my client’s garden beds look a little unnerving.
3. Carnivorous plants (and all their beautiful, vicious, blood-sucking relatives.)
A few years ago my husband and I visited one of the coolest nurseries around – California Carnivores.
When I was young, I remember loving the little venus fly traps that my parents would bring home for my brother and me.
We’d have so much fun watching the horror unfold as we’d feed the flytraps an unsuspecting fly.
But at this nursery there’s SO much more than Venus flytraps!
There’s the deadly, sticky Sundews and Butterworts, or the gorgeous pitcher plants just waiting to drown their victims.
This little sweetie is the Fanged Pitcher Plant (nepenthes bicalcatarata) from the S.F. Conservatory of Flowers (you can read more here.)
While botanists aren’t entirely sure of the fang’s purpose (the toothy protrusions running along the side of the plant), some think they’re strategically placed to lure insects to the top of the lip where they’ll certainly fall to their watery death.
4. Little brains and living stones (lithops)
I’ve always had a thing for lithops (also called split rocks, living rocks, or living stones.)
Originating from South Africa, their bizarre fleshy ‘leaves’ lie close to the ground, mimicking rocks, designed to protect them from grazing animals.
Their deep tap roots help them endure months and months without water.
I’ve had this little container of lithops for two years now, and have been rewarded each October with cheery yellow blooms.
They’re notorious for being a bit difficult to keep alive, but the key is knowing when and when not to water.
Here’s a really helpful video explaining just how to keep these little brains alive.
5. Blue Eyeballs (globularia sarcophylla)
One of my favorite plants in my garden is this globularia sarcophylla ‘Blue Eyes.’
The flowers look exactly like, well…little blue eyes.
Even its botanical name globularia is gross, isn’t it?
When in bloom, kids love this plant.
The globularia is a warmer climate, low-growing shrub for zones 9-10 gardens.
When not covered with blue eyeballs in the spring, the glaucous foliage is a welcome sight in my garden (click here for more glorious glaucous plants.)
6. A few more odd-ball favorites
I discovered this spooky plant (athanasia pinnata) leaping from the grave at the Sacramento Historic Cemetery.
Someone definitely had a sense of humor when planting this behind the 100-year old headstone.
Bear with me on this next one, please.
Annie’s Annuals sells this beauty, called the ‘Family Jewels’ tree, otherwise known as asclepias physocarpa.
One of my clients has this growing in their garden, and it’s covered with, well…spiky, hairy balls.
It’s a super fast growing 6-foot tall milkweed (yes, it hosts monarch butterflies, too!) A perfect plant for catching your visitors off guard.
I particularly love the ghastly named Love Lies Bleeding, found growing in a Mountain View garden.
Usually the flowers are held in long, draping panicles. This is a smaller, upright variety called ‘Pygmy’s Torch’, which you can find here.
While on a garden tour in Arizona, I spotted this cholla cactus ready to jump on its next victim.
The setting sun backlit this spiky beauty, causing it to look like a giant tarantula.
And speaking of tarantulas…
My mother calls calls this my Tarantula Cactus (it’s actually a cleistocactus winteri.)
And while it might resemble a big spider climbing out of the pot, it’s common name is the Golden Rat Tail, which is just as icky.
It does, however, have the cutest flower!
Even though this succulent has the cutest common name (crassula rupestris ‘Baby Necklace’) my husband thinks it looks like little snakes growing out of the pot.
Thanks a lot for the image, Tom.
I’ve had this succulent for many years, and it’s SUPER easy to grow.
And fairly tough, too, as mine has never suffered much from drought, heat, or our winter temps that dip into the high-20’s.
And finally, what spooky plant post would be complete without mentioning the Dracula Orchid!
Spotted at the SF Conservatory of Flowers, was this giant sculpture of a dracula vampira orchid.
If you’re thinking to yourself ‘hmmm…I’m not seeing Dracula here’ you wouldn’t be alone.
The Latin translation of Dracula is ‘little dragon’, which is what this flower is named after.
If you enjoy bizarre plants as much as I do, you’ll definitely want to read Amy Stewart’s Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln’s Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities.
It’s one of my favorite books and SO entertaining!