Weird plants

Posted on November 30, 2010


I’ll tell you what I learned about North Carolina in four days of visiting two sisters and one new brother-in-law. 

  • It’s still autumn there
  • They like cars as much as we do and drive them a lot faster
  • It is possible to go bull riding right down the road from the farm market
  • It is possible to get excellent shrimp there, and it is possible they will be served with grits
  • The shiny new Bioinformatics Department building at UNC-Charlotte is right around the corner from the shiny new Motorsports Institute building
  • The UNC-Charlotte Botanical Gardens are astonishing and the greenhouse is audacious.  There is no other word for it.  The current exhibit features Bizarre Botanicals, celebrating the publication of a book by the same name. 

So guess which of these will be our subject this evening?  Correct!

We were greeted at the greenhouse entrance by a little Tupperware tub of Devil’s Claw.  The stuff is fierce–it splits into long, curved thorns that latch onto the legs of deer and other animals, who broadcast the seeds as they run around trying to get rid of the thorns.  Imagine the Cowboy romping in a patch of that stuff.

Love-in-a-puff is weird in a nice way.  The seedpods are little green balloon shapes that wither into something akin to Cocoa Puffs–thus the name–but the love is in the seeds.  They’re a tasteful black imprinted with a white heart shape.  Very tailored.

Then there was the Foxface.  I thought it looked like chubby little cartoon character feet myself.  Appealing fruits, but poisonous.  I would not recommend growing them in the home garden.  If you are as distractable as I am, you might forget the poisonous part and pop one in your mouth.

There was a nice display of Pitcher Plant, Venus Flytrap, and other carnivorous flora.  (If you think the hog slaughter post was graphic you definitely do not want to read about Venus Flytrap.  Me neither.)   If you have a flying pest problem, this might be the dish garden for you.

Farther along there was a Baseball Plant that produces all male flowers one year and all female flowers the next.

The Hand Plant–I have no idea why it’s called that, as it looks more like a mutant spider to me–is so weird even the plant experts are flummoxed. 

Then there’s Batfruit. Looks just like a colony of bats hanging out napping.

I gather this is exploding club moss.  Apparently spores from this stuff were used to make the flash powder that early photographers used.  Travel is so broadening.

There is a lot more to learn about weird plants, and Larry Mellichamp, co-author (with Paula Gross) of Bizarre Botanicals, is just the fellow to explain it all for you.  He was puttering around at the greenhouse on a holiday weekend and agreed to sell me a copy of the book, which he inscribed.  I am having a very good time with it.  That is because I am not dipping into it for gardening advice.  No indeed, I am hunting weirdness.  You should expect nothing less from the person whose idea of gardening is watching the liverworts construct Tiny World.