Posted on March 25, 2013
At up to three feet in diameter, Raffelesia arnoldii holds the title for largest single bloom on Earth. This monstrous flower hails from Sumatra and Borneo, and its size isn’t all that’s weird about it. These giant flowers are red, fleshy, and speckled, and feature a huge cup in the center that can hold several quarts of water. Stranger still, the plant has no roots, leaves, or stems as it grows parasitically from a host vine. Then, there is the matter of how it gets its common name. Aside from being the largest flower, those that have seen it personally will also tell you that it is the world’s most foul-smelling flower. The corpse flower shares its common name with a couple of different flowers, so-called for their putrid odor that is likened to (ugh), rotting flesh. This odor actually plays a pivotal role in reproduction, attracting flies and insects to assist in pollination.
If, for some reason, you ever find yourself strolling around in the rainforests of Indonesia or Australia, beware Dendrocnide moroides, or the Gympie-Gympie stinging tree. The plant looks innocuous, but it’s completely covered in tiny stinging hairs. This tree doesn’t merely sting, though—it can kill. The toxic sting of this tree has been known to kill dogs and horses, and one human death has even been documented. Even if the sting doesn’t kill, it does cause some of the most excruciating pain that can be administered by a plant. Those who have experienced the sting of this tree have had terrible allergic reactions, swelling of the lymph nodes, joint aches, nosebleeds, difficulty sleeping or breathing, and have gone into shock in extreme cases. If that isn’t enough, there is the burning, searing, stinging pain that begins immediately after contact with the plant. It is described as being like you’ve been splashed with acid—yikes!
You’ve probably heard of a Venus flytrap, but it isn’t the only plant with carnivorous tendencies. Nepenthes raja and Nepenthes lowii are two examples of pitcher plants from Borneo. Pitcher plants look like pitchers. They vary in size, color, and shape, but a unique pitcher or vase-like hollow is the common bond between them. In this pitcher, the plant is able to capture and consume insects, and on occasion, specimen have been found to contain small mammals and reptiles that drowned looking for a place to hide. These two particular varieties have one
more strange quality. Pitcher plants and tree shrews, like a number of other plants and animals, have formed a mutually beneficial relationship with one another. These pitcher plants have a lid at the mouth of their pitchers that is covered in sweet nectar that the tree shrew can’t resist. The shrew sits over the mouth of the pitcher and eats the nectar, and while it eats the nectar…it uses the pitcher as a toilet. This is actually beneficial to the plant as the shrew’s droppings provide valuable nitrogen that it needs to survive.
Like the sensitive plant, Codariocalyx motorius has the power of rapid movement. While it may not seem all that rapid to us, to a plant the ability to make movements quick enough to be detected by human eyes is very rapid, indeed. The telegraph plant possesses tiny leaves at the base of larger leaves on the plant. These tiny leaves are able to rotate, searching for the position in which leaves can receive the most sunlight. The tiny leaves at the base of each larger leaf actually show the larger leaf where it should be to get the most light.
There isn’t anything that strange about Mimosa pudica when you look at it—it is a bright green perennial that produces puffy pink blooms in the summer. The unique qualities of this plant aren’t apparent until you reach out and touch it. The sensitive plant, also called the shame plant and touch-me-not, earns its name from the reaction it has to being touched. Simply stroking one leaf will cause each leaf on the branch to collapse inward in a domino effect until the branch, too, collapses. Gradually, the branches become erect again, and the leaves open and return to their normal position. The sensitive plant is prized as a house or garden plant for its bashful shrinking away from being teased.
Rafflesia arnoldii: Henrik Hansson, http://globaljuggler.net/photos/
Dendrocnide moroides: Cgoodwin