From the Darker Side of Eden...

From the Darker Side of Eden...

Someone once said that every gardener is quietly tapping into the lost Garden of Eden, and it sure feels that way sometimes, doesn't it? Oh, c'mon, tell me there isn't something truly magical about the feeling of sun-warmed soil in your hands, a tiny hummingbird's nest safely tucked away, or flower buds right before they burst into glorious bloom.

But don't forget - it wasn't all sunshine and butterflies in the Garden of Eden as there was a serpent lurking, and some plants appeared more sinister than charming. Are you ready to take a walk on the wild side and explore some of the spooky, ominous, and downright creepy plants enriching the vast tapestry of the natural world? Who knows, you just might find a new favorite among the unusual! 

Arisaema - Cobra Lilies

Weird, wonderful, and native to woodland environments, Arisaema, also known as Cobra Lilies, are extraordinary plants that rear up from the shady garden floor with wing-like leaves and cobra-like blooms. The fan like-leaves arch wide like wings for the earthbound serpent to become a dragon, and like the tail of an unfortunate rat sacrificed to a pang of insatiable hunger, a long whipcord extends. Arisaema have intricate markings in shades of green, brown, black, and burgundy that are said to hypnotize their prey into submission. But beware: these plants are highly toxic and will bite back if attacked! 

Despite its spooky appearance, Arisaema don't eat mammals or even insects, but they do have some creepy "culinary" habits. They rely solely on flies for pollination, luring them with an enticing aroma reminiscent of rotting flesh. These slithering showstoppers thrive in well-drained, nutrient-rich soil with dappled sunshine overhead and add stunning architectural interest to gardens. Arriving in spring to early summer, Arisaema are relatively easy to grow and require minimal care. Certain varieties are hardy in zones 5-9 and will gladly grow in cool-climate containers, where you can overwinter them in a dark basement.

Arisaema Tips & Tricks

  • Work the soil well before planting to break up any compacted areas, as Arisaema prefer porous soil with plenty of air spaces. 
  • Overplant your Cobra Lilies with Achimenes tubers as a gauge for watering. When the Achimenes wilt, it's time to water your Arisaema, and when the Achimenes are happy, your Arisaema will be too!
  • Protect tender new growth from hard frosts.
  • Ensure your Arisaema receives excellent drainage, as the tubers and roots are prone to rot in poorly drained conditions. While fussy about their drainage, they will grow equally well in acidic or alkaline soils.
  • Plant in raised beds or small hillocks to help achieve the appropriate level of drainage. 

Tacca - Bat Plant

If you're looking for something that's hauntingly beautiful and spectacularly sinister, then you need Tacca! Also known as the Bat Flower or Bat Plant, this exotic beauty flaunts some seriously unique blooms that mimic a bat in flight. Large, lush, emerald leaves surround the stunning flowers for a truly remarkable display from spring until early fall. They might require a little extra care, but these breathtaking plants are well worth the effort!

These spectacular flowers remain evergreen and thrive in warm, humid conditions but must be protected from the wind. In very mild climates, Tacca form miniature rain forests in the garden, 6 feet tall and twice as wide! They're surprisingly content in containers and can be grown indoors year-round if the humidity is increased with pebble trays or misting. 

Tacca Tips & Tricks

  • Protect your Tacca from direct sun, wind, and temperatures below 40 degrees F for the best results.
  • Keep soil moist but never wet, as Tacca will not survive in soggy conditions. 
  • Avoid fertilizing and lighten up on the water in the winter, as your Tacca will be resting a bit.
  • Check the soil regularly to ensure that you are maintaining a healthy balance of moisture. 
  • Mist the leaves daily if you're gardening in a low-humidity area, spraying above the foliage to let the mist settle gently. 
  • Use Orchid potting mix or add a generous amount of perlite to your preferred potting mix to improve drainage and ensure good air throughout the soil.
  • Place pebble trays, water features, or a humidifier near your Tacca for an added bonus.

Amorphophallus - Voodoo Lily

The strangely beautiful Amorphophallus, or Voodoo Lilies, are exotic plants in the aroid family, characterized by blooms with a central "spadix" surrounded or hooded by a modified leaf called a "spathe." While Calla Lilies and Colocasias and Alocasias are also members of the aroid family, Amorphophallus steal the show in terms of the most bizarre and astonishing. 

The sudden arrival of enormous blooms comes with a frankly unpleasant odor explicitly designed to attract flies as pollinators. Don't worry - the scent fades rapidly while the flowers last well, and after a month or so, extraordinary palmate leaves begin to develop on a highly patterned "petiole." Beyond the common name Voodoo Lily, this plant is also known as Devil's Tongue and Corpse Flower, referring to the long, whipcord "tongue" that can extend up to 2 feet from the plant and the corpse-like stench they emit. 

Amorphophallus Tips & Tricks

  • Choose bulbs that are no smaller than the size of a softball for stunning flowers the first year.
  • Water in the summer, but let them go dry in the winter. 
  • Make sure your containers have adequate drainage holes. 
  • Keep them away from pets and kids, as they are poisonous!
  • Add some perlite or coarse sand into the soil if you need to give it better drainage.

Phew, you made it! Those are my top three picks for bizarre, strange, ominous, and show-stopping plants to create an unforgettable display in shady gardens!  

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