By Guest Author Nadina Hughes of Flowers Across Melbourne.
Roses, lilies, iris, snapdragons, sunflowers , gerberas, and the occasional exotic orchid are a florist’s stock in trade. But as flowers are not only our business but our passion, we also love discovering flowers that one doesn’t see every day, or even in a lifetime. Among all of the species of flowers on the planet, these ten have to be the weirdest flowers in the world.
#1 Weirdest Flower: Monkey Face Orchid (Dracula simia)
Let’s face it (pun intended), the little flower referred to as Monkey Face Orchid didn’t take a whole lot of imagination to name: “Dracula” because of it’s two long, fang-like petals and “simia” for its resemblance to primates.
The two dark little eyes, fuzzy dotted eyebrows, and furry little nose and beard area of Monkey Face Orchid bear striking simian resemblances that become even more obvious when viewed from a distance. It might as well be called the Baboon-Faced Orchid, but who’s keeping track?
The Monkey Face Orchid is rare oddity. It is only found in the cloud forests of Peru and southeastern Ecuador at altitudes of more than 3,000 feet. It has the ability to bloom year round, thrives in intermediate to warm weather, and its flowers smell like ripe oranges, making it a prized addition to any orchid connoisseur’s garden. To create an especially striking bouquet or floral arrangement with Dracula Simia, consider pairing the pointy orchid with bushy, fluffy plants and flowers like the wild pussy willow.
A small detail to keep in mind: some Monkey Face Orchids grow large, with down-turned pointy petals, while others produce a smaller, fuzzier bloom that look more like monkey faced-cotton balls. If you’re into morbid floristry, try making an arrangement out of the Monkey Face Orchid and a bunch of Dragon’s Skulls (dead and dried snapdragons!).
#2 Weirdest Flower: Naked Man Orchid (Orchis italica)
Is it an alien? Is it a sea anemone? Should you have said yes to that post-rave cup of coffee in hopes of quelling your neon visions? Nope, it’s the Naked Man Orchid!
This little guy (or guys), also known as the Hanging Man Orchid, is native to the Mediterranean region and resembles tiny little hanging naked men, from their dotted eyes and smiles right down to their little but proud you-know-whats.
Naked Man Orchids come in all sizes and usually range in colour from light purplish white to deep purply pink. Some hybrids of this flower have broader pink petals that enclose the top of the flower, almost like a hood or a bonnet. The Naked Man Orchid is classified as having a threatened status, perhaps because of its popularity as an antidiarrheal, antiflatulent and aphrodisiac.
Another crazy fact about these fun flowers: they’re used in making the drink Salep, also called Turkish Delight. Want to try out your own batch of homemade salep? If you’ve got an abundance of these little rarities you can grind up the tubers into a flower that resembles arrowroot. This is the basis of the thick, sweet, coffee-like drink. Because the Naked Man Orchid has a threatened status, it is illegal to export true salep powder from the Mediterranean regions from whence it comes.
#3 Weirdest Flower: Devils Hand (Chiranthodendron pentadactylon)
If idle hands are the devil’s workshop, we’re not really sure what the Devil’s Hands are, but we sure love to look at them. Some call this tree the Monkey’s Hand, Hand-Flower or Monkey Paw, but we wouldn’t recommend making any wishes on it (though we will say that it makes an amazing living headpiece or handheld bouquet, especially around Halloween).
The Devil’s Hand is native to Mexico where the Ancient Aztecs held it in especially high religious regard, and harvested the claw-like flowers for generations. The fruit produced by this tree has an earthy taste and has been used for years in traditional medicine to treat many varieties of heart conditions. The claw part of this flower emerges from the otherwise normal-looking bloom, like an unholy creature emerging to snatch its prey.
Want to capitalize on this flower’s evil façade? Pair it with a few black Chinese Batflowers and Doll’s Eye (otherwise known as white baneberry) and you’ve got a special occasion centrepiece your guests won’t soon forget. Be careful if you have pets, however, as Doll’s Eye is extremely toxic. Unlike some tropical plants the Devil’s Hand tree is extremely hardy and can grow relatively fast, reaching upwards of 40’ to 60’ tall!
#4 Weirdest Flower: Parrot Flower (Impatiens psittacina)
If you’ve never seen a Parrot Flower before you’re not alone (no, we’re not talking about the handy gardening app, Parrot Flower Power). This flower is so rare that many people still doubt its actual existence.
The Parrot Flower, a Thailand native also known as the “parrot balsam,” is classified as endangered and therefore not allowed to leave the country. That means if you want to find out whether or not this little wonder exists, you’ll have to book a flight to Manipur, India, Burma, or a tiny region in northern Thailand near Chiang Mai.
The cool thing about the flower of this rare species of balsam is that its profile looks just like a parrot or cockatoo in flight! Funny thing is, when images of this flower first began to circulate across the Internet they were dismissed as being “digitally manipulated” because very few people had actually seen one.
#5 Weirdest Flower: Bee Orchid (Ophrys bombyliflora)
The Bee Orchid gets its name from its uncanny resemblance to a smiling bumblebee (that is, if bumblebees could smile). Its name comes from the Greek word “ophrys” meaning eyebrow, perhaps referring to the fuzzy bits around the edge of the flower. Some Bee Orchids stick to the cream, brown and gold colour scheme while others have a pinkish hue to their petals.
You’d think that the Bee Orchid got its name from looking like, well, a honeybee, but you’d be wrong. The Bee Orchid actually got its nickname because bees are this flower’s main pollinator. The Bee Orchid is native to Malta, however it’s becoming more and more scarce because the propagation process is so difficult. You see, the Bee Orchid requires a symbiotic relationship with a certain type of fungus in order to successfully grow, making transplanting extremely difficult. Bee Orchids thrive in grasslands and surprisingly, many have been found growing out of dry, chalky limestone!
The Bee Orchid is very clever: The colouring and shape of the flower mimics the look and smell of a female bee, which entices male bees towards it to mate, thus expediting the pollination process! While Australian Bee Orchids are lucky enough to have a healthy population of pollinators nearby, Bee Orchids in other parts of the world aren’t as lucky. In places like the UK, the right species of bee simply doesn’t exist, which led the Bee Orchids of the UK to become self-pollinators.
#6 Weirdest Flower: Swaddled Babies (Anguloa uniflora)
Too cute! These adorable little tulip orchids, nicknamed Swaddled Babies, were discovered in the Colombian Andes between 1777-1788 during a ten-year expedition, but weren’t named and officially classified until 1798. During certain times of this complex plant’s blooming stage, the flowers’ unique shape resembles that of a baby all wrapped up in white swaddling. Some of us here think that Swaddled Babies look more like the inside of mussels, but we’ll leave the decision up to you!
In their native South American habitat the Swaddled Babies Orchid is a summer bloomer, and not hard to miss either, if you know what you’re looking for. The white, waxy flowers can grow up to 10cm across and smell amazingly sweet. Their tempting scent attracts insects to the hinged lip of the petal where the unsuspecting creatures are shoved into the column where pollen attaches itself to their abdomens, increasing pollination.
#7 Weirdest Flower: Hooker’s Lips (Psychotria elata)
Hooker Lips, Hot Lips, Flower Lips— call them what you will— there’s no guessing how this seductive plant got its name.
The bright red bits that resemble a hooker’s bright red lips are actually bracts, not petals. The leaf-like bracts are only in their kissable state for a few days before opening to reveal the little yellow and white flowers within, almost like the plant is sticking its tongue out at you.
If this working girl looks especially trippy there’s a good reason for it. Turns out the Hooker’s Lips flower comes from a genus in the plant family Rubiaceae that produces psychedelic chemicals like Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), and with 1,990 different kinds of species it’s quite a large genus. Several species of Hooker’s Lips are marked with dark spots that are actually bacteria-filled nodules.
The Hooker’s Lips Plant is native to the tropical regions of Columbia, Costa Rica and Panama, but due to its popularity with collectors and the deforestation of its natural habitat it’s landed on the endangered species list. Hope we don’t have to kiss this little beauty goodbye anytime soon!
#8 Weirdest Flower: Bat-faced Cuphea (Cuphea llavea)
Another strikingly beautiful flower that we’re not sure if we should run from or stick in a vase is the Bat Face Cuphea (Cuphea Iluvea). This heat-loving perennial is native to Mexico and grows in sprawling mounds that are characterized by their bright red and dark purple tubular flowers resembling the face of a bat.
The Bat Face Cuphea, also known as the Cigar Plant, Peter’s Plant or Bunny Ears, grows anywhere between 1’ and 2’ tall, with hairy, trowel-like leaves. The plant is extremely drought-resistant and heat-tolerant but still enjoys a good watering once per week. Bat Face Cupheas don’t simply add pops and splashes of colour to the garden; they attract hummingbirds and butterflies, too! The Swallowtail and Sulphur butterflies especially enjoy the sweet nectar hidden inside the little Bat Faces.
Considering adding the Bat Face Cuphea to your garden? They make perfect hanging baskets and container flowers and look especially nice when used in borders.
#9 Weirdest Flower: Lithops Weberi (Lithops comptonii)
You may have heard of a pet stone before, but a flowering stone? Nope, your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you, it’s Lithops Weberi, otherwise known as Living Stones. These awesome little succulents are perfect to grow indoors, especially for folks whose thumbs are not so green. Like most succulents, the Lithops Weberi is extra-hardy and usually remains unfazed with changes in conditions or environment.
Living Stones are native only to South Africa, where their evolutionary progress turned them into a drought-proof plant. When Lithops blooms it looks extraordinary, with a white or yellow daisy poking out from what appears to be solid stone.
Talk about easy to propagate! If you want to multiply your Living Stones simply take a leaf off of one, stick it into the pebble bed and it will take root. That’s it. If your Living Stone begins to take on a stretched-out or oblong shape, it is because the plant isn’t getting enough sunlight. Simply place the little fella in direct sunlight for a few days and watch as it returns to its, short, stubby, lovable self. If creepy plants that look like rocks and other things are in your wheelhouse, consider adding the Bleeding Tooth Fungus and the Octopus Stinkhorn (don’t worry, that last one’s just a mushroom).
#10 Weirdest Flower: Corpse lily (Amorphophallus titanum)
This monster of a plant was made famous in the movie Dennis the Menace. It blooms so infrequently that whenever one does, it often makes local and sometimes global headlines.
The Corpse lily is technically a compound flower—though still considered the world’s largest single flower—and only grows in Indonesia, specifically Sumatra. If you’re wondering what kind of pollinators would be interested in such a stinky bud, the answer is carrion beetles and flies. Surprised?
The Corpse Lily’s Latin name comes from the Ancient Greek “amorphos” which means, “without form, misshapen.” Not only is this flower extremely rare, it’s extremely large, some growing up to 12 feet tall with flowers weighing up to 25 pounds!
Despite its disgusting stench and rather phallic appearance, the Corpse Lily is the official flower of the rainforests of Borneo, where it calls home. Another little known fact about the Corpse Lily: Each flower (if successfully pollinated, that is) can produce up to four million seeds.
Nadina Hughes is the owner and lead florist at Flowers Across Melbourne, an online florist in Melbourne, Australia.