Posted on April 10, 2014
The durian tree produces a fruit that is widely considered in southeast Asia to be the King of Fruits. The durian fruit is incredibly large, weighing several pounds and up to a foot in length. The husk is tough and spiked, but when opened reveals a soft and sweet yellow flesh that many consider to be a delicacy. The flesh is used in the recipes for many candies and desserts. There’s just one big problem: the durian fruit smells horrific. Even before the fruit is opened, it can fill a room with a noxious scent likened by some to rotting fruit, garbage, decaying flesh, old socks, and raw sewage. Just being near a durian can cause some to become nauseas and vomit. The stench of the durian fruit is so clingy and potent, many hotels and public places in areas where durians are enjoyed have banned the fruit from their premises. Still, it remains dear to the hearts of those who enjoy them, and if you are feeling adventurous, they may be found in Asian supermarkets in the US. But, be careful. We hear the smell isn’t easy to wash out.
Wolffia, a genus of about ten species, isn’t poisonous or neon-colored or bizarre. It’s just small. Actually, it’s really, really small. The Wolffia genus contains the smallest flowering plants on Earth. Commonly called watermeal, this plant has no roots or leaves, and simply floats on the surface of the water. They appear to be tiny green globes, called thalluses, no bigger than a pinhead. When blooming, the flower is so small that you wouldn’t be able to see it without a microscope. Though it’s small, this plant is a source of food for fish and birds. Watermeal is even consumed by humans for its rich protein content.
Anastatica hierochuntica, also known as the rose of Jericho, is a survivor. It hails from arid areas in North Africa and the Middle East, and it’s used to living without water—sometimes for years. The rose of Jericho, though it may crumple into a dry and dead-looking ball, can remain alive for decades without a drop to drink. By drying and crumpling, it is able to protect its seeds until the next rainy season. When finally exposed to water, the rose of Jericho will slowly unfurl and become green again, releasing its seeds to reproduce. For this reason, it is one of a few plants called resurrection plants for their capacity to return from the dead, or so it seems. Once the rain is gone and things become dry again, the plant will repeat the process of drying up and going dormant until the next rain. Anastatica hierochuntica can be purchased inexpensively to be a houseplant, so keep this one in mind when you need to buy a gift for the not-so-great plant owner in your life.
Hydnora africana looks as if it’s straight from an alien planet, but it is actually found in parts of southern Africa. It has no leaves or foliage—just a bizarre flower and a system of roots underground that it uses to drain nutrients parasitically from the roots of a host plant. The flower, like a life form from a sci-fi novel, resembles something between a cracked melon and the jaws of some creature coming out of the ground. The outside of the flower is rough and brown, concealing bright orange flesh on the inside. The plant releases a foul odor, likened to feces, to attract dung and carrion beetles to stop for a visit. Once inside, the beetles become trapped in the flower, pollinating it as they fall into the plant and attempt to escape. After a time, the flower opens just enough to allow the beetle to escape.
Another native of southern Africa, Lithops, wouldn’t attract any attention at all. You might miss it completely if you were walking past, but that’s exactly the point. Members of the Lithops genus are masters of disguise, and they avoid being eaten or disturbed by looking incredibly like rocks. Commonly called stone plants, these succulents are small, round in shape, and come in shades of gray and brown featuring a variety of strange markings like veins on its surface almost like a brain. A split in the center releases new leaves and, in most cases, a flower that looks similar to a daisy.
Clathrus archeri definitely isn’t the prettiest plant on the block—it’s probably one of the more grotesque ones. Actually, octopus stinkhorn is a fungus, and unfortunately, its name is rather accurate. This fungus is native to Australia, can be commonly found on mulch or around trees on woody material. It is called octopus because of the way it looks: a red mass of arms curling outward like the tentacles of a squid or octopus. These tentacles spring from light-colored and bulbous masses called suberumpent eggs. It earns the second part of its name, stinkhorn, for its fragrance, which is more than a little unpleasant. The stench of rotting flesh, like with Hydnora africana, may be intended to attract insects to help them spread their spore.