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10 Really Weird Plants You Won’t Believe Exist

Bee-like fly insect approaching and being captured by Venus fly trap carnivorous plant, Dionea muscipula

10 Really Weird Plants You Won’t Believe Exist

Plants are weird on so many levels. Some just look weird and others do weird things or interact with the world in ways that humans struggle to understand. However, there are some things about plants that people don’t realize. Plants have senses similar to humans, though not all of the same ones. Not all of them rely on photosynthesis for nutrients.

They can have symbiotic or parasitic relationships with other organisms. Plants can be invasive and some kill other plants. An amount of plant evolution is driven by symbiotic interactions with pathogenic microbes, which is very similar to terrestrial and aquatic animals. Let’s look at 10 of the world’s weird plant species.

To populate this list, we looked at various plant species that have unique characteristics among plants. We tried to pick ones that would be less commonly known to the general population as these are the ones that are typically hardest to understand. We sourced opinions from plant experts and biologists to explain the details of the strange appearances or other features of these plants. (Also See 35 Easiest Houseplants To Care For)

Cuscuta

Dodder (Cuscuta Spp.) Native North American Annual Seed-bearing Parasitic Vine Climbing on Vegetation
Source: Brian Woolman / Shutterstock.com

Cuscuta is often called “witches’ hair,” “dodder,” or “amarbel.” It’s a genus of over 201 species of parasitic plants that can be yellow, orange, or red. Sometimes they’re green, but this is quite rare. It was formerly treated as the only genus in the family Cuscutaceae but is now known to be part of the Morning Glory family. It can be found in temperate and tropical regions but is rare in cool temperate climates, such as northern Europe.

The plant appears as thin, leafless stems. However, the leaves are actually tiny scales invisible to the naked eye. The vines can produce small fruits that take on the color of the vine itself. Some species of Cuscuta can photosynthesize to some extent, but some cannot. Thus, these plants may be entirely dependent on their host plant for nutrients.

Additionally, Cuscuta plants have a sense of “smell.” They can detect volatile organic compounds in the air that help them grow toward an appropriate host.

Stapelia gigantea

Stapelia Gigantea Near Beach In Oahu
Source: Carl Bishop Photography / Shutterstock.com

The massive Stapelia gigantea is one of the many plants that fall under the umbrella term “carrion plant” or “carrion flower.” Flowers in this category are distinguished by their overwhelmingly terrible smell that is evocative of rotting flesh! Common names for the Stapelia gigantea are the Zulu giant, carrion plant, and the toad plant.

The Stapelia gigantea is native to the desert regions from South Africa to Tanzania. It’s a clump-forming succulent with erect green stems that can grow up to 20 centimeters tall. It blooms in autumn, producing large, star-shaped flowers that have five petals, up to 25 centimeters in diameter. Flowers are red and yellow, wrinkled, and have a silky texture with fringed hairs that can be as long as 8 millimeters.

This weird plant’s primary pollinators are flies. Thus, it emits a foul smell similar to rotting flesh to attract these bugs. The smell is so terrible, that it can act as an appetite suppressant for humans and there is a company studying how it can be used in medicine to prevent binge eating.

Darlingtonia californica

Darlingtonia californica, also called the California pitcher plant, cobra lily, or cobra plant
Source: Walencienne / Shutterstock.com

Darlingtonia californica is the sole species with the monotypic genus, Darlingtonia. Common names for this weird plant include the California pitcher plant, the Oregon pitcher plant, the cobra lily, or the cobra plant. It is a species of carnivorous plant that falls into the New World pitcher plant family. It’s native to northern California and Oregon where the climate is typically thought of as cool and humid. However, the area’s climate can be too arid for many carnivorous plants, including other pitcher plant genera.

The plant has evolved to its environment. It can be found near bogs, vernal pools, forested rocky slopes, creeks, or near seeps with cold, running water. Darlingtonia californica tends to prefer serpentine soils, an uncommon type of soil produced by weather ultramafic rocks, such as peridotite. Underground, the plant has a very large and rambling root system, especially compared to other carnivorous plant species of the same family. It can survive wildfires by regenerating the plant from its root system. However, the roots are very delicate and exposure to temperatures higher than 50° Fahrenheit will cause them to die back.

We used to believe that this plant did not produce any digestive enzymes. Instead, we thought it relied solely on symbiotic bacteria and protozoa to break down the proteins of its captured prey. However, recent studies have shown that it secretes at least one proteolytic enzyme for digesting captured insects.

Amorphophallus titanium

Amorphophallus titanum known as the titan arum, is a flowering plant with the largest unbranched inflorescence in the world.
Source: evenfh / Shutterstock.com

This plant is a flowering one in the family Araceae. It has the largest unbranched inflorescence (a group or cluster of flowers arranged on a stem, composed of a main branch or system of branches) in the world. Technically, the Croypha umbraculifera has a larger overall inflorescence. However, that plant has a branched inflorescence rather than an unbranched one. Amorphophallus titanium is endemic to the rainforests of the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

It is a type of carrion plant. That means this weird plant emits a strong smell similar to rotting flesh to attract pollinators such as flies. Additionally, during bloom, the spadix of the flower is roughly the temperature of the human body. Its temperature, red color, texture, and smell give the illusion that the plant is actually a piece of rotting meat, which attracts carcass-eating insects. It is commonly referred to as the corpse plant or corpse flower.

The plant’s corm is the largest known in the world, typically weighing as much as 50 kilograms. One specimen weighed during a repotting after its dormant period clocked a weight of 91 kilograms. The record for the largest corm of A. titanium is 153.9 kilograms.

Dionea muscipula

Bee-like fly insect approaching and being captured by Venus fly trap carnivorous plant, Dionea muscipula
Source: AlessandroZocc / Shutterstock.com

While you may not recognize its scientific name, you’ll almost certainly recognize its common name. The Dionea muscipula is more commonly referred to as the Venus flytrap. It’s a carnivorous plant that’s native to the temperate and subtropical wetlands of North and South Carolina. Plant experts have cultivated various hybrids of the plant, but D. muscipula is the only true species of the monotypic genus. The plant is closely related to the waterwheel plant.

The Venus flytrap’s primary prey are small insects and arachnids. It catches them in its jaw-like clamping structure, formed by the terminal portion of the plant’s leaves. The inside of the leaves is covered with tiny hairs known as trigger hairs that sense movement inside the plant’s trap. When something triggers the hairs, the trap prepares to close and it fully encloses if a second hair is contacted within approximately twenty seconds. Triggers can occur as quickly as 1/10th of a second from initial contact.

The plant will only begin digesting the prey if five more triggers are activated, which ensures that the plant has caught a live creature worthy of digestion. The hairs also act as a heat sensor. High heat exposure will cause all of the plant’s traps to snap shut, which makes it more resistant to periods of summer fires. While it is widely cultivated for sale, the population in its native range is declining and it is under review to be added to the endangered species list.

Actaea pachypoda

White baneberry berries and red stalks, Actaea pachypoda
Source: AngieC333 / Shutterstock.com

Actaea pachypoda is a species of flowering plant native to Eastern North America, Eastern Canada, and the Midwestern United States. It prefers to grow in clay instead of coarse, loamy, upland soils. The most striking feature of this weird plant is its white berries with a black stigma scar. The berries give the plant the appearance of a cluster of eyeballs, leading to its common name, Doll’s Eyes. The berries ripen over summer and turn into fruits that will persist on the plant until the frost comes.

The entire doll’s eyes plant is poisonous to humans and should not be consumed. It contains cardiogenic toxins, which have an immediate slowing effect on the cardiac muscle tissues. Ingestion of the plant, especially the berries, can lead to cardiac arrest and death. A variety of birds that are not affected by the toxins eat the berries and disperse the seeds. The plant’s primary pollinators are long-tongued bees.

Some people cultivate doll’s eyes as an ornamental plant in traditional and wildlife gardens.

Monotropa uniflora

Closeup of a trio of Monotropa uniflora - ghost plants
Source: Jarrod Risley / Shutterstock.com

Commonly referred to as the Ghost plant, ghost pipe, or Indian pipe, the Monotropa uniflora is a unique plant because it does not contain any chlorophyll. So, it lacks the typical coloring of a plant and is entirely white. Specimens may have black flecks or a pale pink coloration, and some rare variants are red. However, it is never green. It’s an herbaceous, perennial, flowering plant native to the temperate regions of Asia, North America, and northern South America. However, there are large gaps between its native regions.

It is a parasitic plant that feeds off of local fungi. It does not photosynthesize at all, drawing all of its nutrients from its host plant. Monotropa uniflora saps its nutrients from where the host fungi are connected to the photosynthetic trees. Since it is not dependent on sunlight for nutrients, it can grow in very dark environments, such as the understory of dense forests. The complex relationship between Monotropa uniflora and its host species makes it difficult to cultivate.

It has a very short lifespan. In the right conditions, it will appear fully grown within a few days and die shortly after. The plant’s primary pollinators are various bee and fly species, especially bumblebees. It associates with a rather small range of fungal hosts, all within the Russulaceae family. It’s unknown if this plant is truly toxic to humans. However, it contains glycosides, which are typically toxic for human consumption.

Mimosa pudica

Mimosa pudica comes from the Latin pudica meaning shy, shy, or shrinking, with various other descriptive common names such as shy mimosa, sensitive plant, shy plant
Source: Three Babies Images / Shutterstock.com

Commonly referred to as the sleepy plant, action plant, humble plant, touch-me-not, touch-and-die, shame plant, or sensitive plant, the Mimosa pudica is a weird plant because of its reaction to being touched or moved. It is a plant known for rapid movement. The sensitive, compound leaves fold inward and droop when touched or shaken, and will re-open a few minutes later if left undisturbed.

The plant is native to the Caribbean and South and Central America. However, it is now a pantropical weed that can be found in the Southern United States, South Asia, East Asia, Micronesia, Australia, South Africa, and West Africa. It has trigger hairs similar to those on the Venus flytrap that are sensitive to touch and cause the leaves to fold inwards and close to protect the plant from harm. It is a wield for tropical crops that can endanger the harvest, especially in hand-cultivated fields.

Selaginella lepidophyllla

Resurrection plant (Selaginella lepidophylla) isolated on white.
Source: shansh23 / Shutterstock.com

This weird plant is commonly referred to as a resurrection plant, flower of stone, false rose of Jericho, resurrection moss, dinosaur plant, siempre viva, stone flora, or doradilla. It is a species of desert plant in the spikemoss family. Selaginella lepidophylla is native to the Chihuahuan Desert of the United States and Mexico. Its most striking feature is that the plant is almost entirely resistant to dehydration. The vascular-rooted plant is capable of surviving extreme droughts and will resume normal metabolic function when exposed to water.

Like some of the other plants on this list, it is notable for being able to move. However, it doesn’t have trigger hairs that cause the plant to move in response to touch. Instead, the plant’s stem moisture content controls its movement. During especially dry weather, the plant’s stems curl into a tight ball and uncurl only when exposed to moisture.

It’s crucial not to confuse the Selaginella lepidophylla with the Anastatic hierochuntica, the Rose of Jericho.

Welswitschia mirabilis

Welwitschia mirabilis in Messum Crater
Source: Stephanie Periquet / Shutterstock.com

This plant is the only living member of the Welwitschiaceae family in the division Gnetophyta. It is also one of only three living genera of Gnetophyta. Informal sources will often refer to this plant as a living fossil as its most unique and unusual feature is its incredibly long lifespan. Many specimens of the plant are over 1,000 years old, and some may even be over 2,000 years old.

Another unique feature of Welswistchia mirabilis is its size. The plant’s trunk will continue to expand with age. The largest known specimen is 2.77 meters in diameter and 8.7 meters in circumference.

While the plant is not immediately threatened, its status is not secure. One feature of species of both plants and animals with long lifespans is a slower reproduction rate. When a species lives for a long time, it doesn’t need to reproduce as often as one that dies quickly. Thus, the plant doesn’t reproduce often. Since it is edible by both humans and livestock, overconsumption will cause the low reproduction of the plant to fail to replace eaten specimens.

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