From the Darker Side of Eden...

From the Darker Side of Eden...

It has been said that every gardener is tapping into the lost Garden of Eden. It certainly feels that way when you hold sun warmed soil in your hands, when you spy a tiny hummingbird's nest, or when the buds are swelling just about to burst into glorious bloom.

But there was a serpent in the Garden of Eden, and plants more sinister than lovely. Take a walk on the wilde side, and we'll take a look at some of the spooky, ominous, perhaps even creepy plants that enrich the vast tapestry of the natural world. You just might find a new favorite! :)

Arisaema - Cobra Lilies

Arisaema speciosum with goliage

Arisaema blooms rear up from the shady garden floor, spreading their flaring hoods like the cobras they are named for. Above, the fan like-leaves arch wide like wings for the earth bound serpent to become a dragon. A long whipcord extends, like the tail of an unfortunate rat sacrificed to an insatiable hunger. Despite the looks, arisaema don't eat mammals, or even insects, relying on flies for pollination. These exotic, bizarre blooms attract their favored pollinators with an enticing bouquet reminiscent of rotting flesh. 

Like the cobras they resemble, arisaema have intricate markings of stripes, spots and patterning of greens, browns, blacks and burgundy. Also like the cobra, these are highly toxic, and will bite back if attacked! Best kept away from pets and small children. The snakes are said to hypnotize their prey into submission - gardeners beware the beguiling blandishments of the cobra lily!

Native to woodland settings throughout the world, Arisaema thrive in well drained soils rich in nutrients, with dappled sunshine overhead. Varieties can be found hardy zones 5-9, and arisaema will grow in containers in colder climates, where they can be brought indoors over the winter to sleep away the cold in a dark basement. A handsome and sinister companion for hostas.

Tacca - Bat Plant

Tacca Black and tacca white

Lurking in the shadows of Asian tropical jungles, the sinister seeming blooms of tacca rule the shaded depths of the understory. Lush green foliage looks like that of a spathiphyllum. Interesting, isn't it, that the bizarre bat flower masquerades for part of its life as a gentle peace lily? With sinister intent or no, the foliage makes a beautiful backdrop for the dramatic blooms. Widely flared bracts (8-12 inches across) mimic the look of a bat's wings in flight, while the rounded lobed blooms beneath may appear to be the animal itself. Extraordinary trailing filaments remind some of a cat's whiskers, leading to other common names for this most uncommon of plants.

From the deepest jungles of Asia to your home or garden? Yes! With a bit of effort, the tacca can be made happy in your garden, in containers, even inside your home - year round! Tacca remain evergreen, and thrive in warm, humid conditions and must be protected from wind. In very mild climates, tacca form miniature rain forests in the garden, 6 feet tall and twice as wide! Surprisingly happy in containers, tacca can be grown indoors year round if the humidity is increased with pebble trays and misting. Think of the affect on wayward kids when you have a blooming bat plant at your back!

Amorphophallus - Voodoo Lily

Voodoo lily Sauromatum

The strangely beautiful amorphophallus are exotic plants in the aroid family, all the members are characterized by blooms made up of a central “spadix” surrounded or hooded by a modified leaf called a “spathe”. Calla lilies are one of the most popular garden varieties of the aroid family, and are commonly associated with the unique aroid bloom structure. Colocasias and Alocasias are other examples of this remarkable family.

Amorphophallus are perhaps the most astonishing of the Aroid family – and among the most bizarre of all plants on the planet.   With the sudden emergence of the enormous blooms, comes a frankly unpleasant odor designed (effectively) to attract flies as pollinators.  The scent fades rapidly, while the blooms last well.  After a month or more, look for extraordinary palmate leaves to develop on a highly patterned “petiole” – what would be a trunk if these were the miniature trees these sometimes appear to be. 

While the cobra lily (arisaema) and the bat flower (tacca) common names clearly reference the look of the flower - the origin of "voodoo lily" to describe amorphophallus remains unclear. Perhaps it is a nod to the sinister appeal of the plant. Other common names like Devil's Tongue and Corpse Flower clearly refer first to the appearance of the bloom with that long, whipcord "tongue" that can extend up to 2 feet from the plant - and "corpse flower" is a nod to the stench of rotting flesh they emit to entice flies for pollination. 

There you have it for my top three categories of bizarre, strange, ominous, show-stopping plants for an unforgettable addition to any shady garden.  Are you up for it?  I would love to hear what you think!  Please drop a comment to let me know!

Happy Gardening!

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  • Kathleen McCarthy
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