Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Plants with Attitude

Love the color, size and shape - but the smell???
One of the many spurge - Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii
Photo credit;

Have you ever looked around surreptitiously and wondered where that awful smell was coming from?

Have you seen seriously weird plants and wondered who on earth would plant them?

Welcome to the world of funky plants – weird anomalies of Nature. In the gardening blogosphere most posts are about nice plants; sculptural beauties, delicate perfume, well behaved, plays-nicely-with-others type of plants. Consider this a step into the dark side.

Fragrance vs. Stench
Just be thankful this isn't
'scratch and sniff' - Dragon arum

I mean honestly, do you want your garden to smell like rotting flesh? Well if so I have the perfect candidate - the Dragon arum (Dracunculus vulgaris). I can’t describe it any better than Seattle author Valerie Easton; “This smells as if it's lived off spoiled meat for centuries and looks as if it has pushed its way up from the underworld. Black-red hooded flowers and a long black tongue complete the disgusting picture”. Ick.

Perhaps that is a bit extreme and you’d prefer the less pungent smell of a wet dog? Laurustinus (Viburnum tinus) will fit the bill nicely, especially after a hard freeze. It took me years to work that one out.

Spurge (Euphorbia sp.) is another case in point. These have more of a nose-wrinkling skunky smell.  Place them with care i.e. not by your front door unless you want to keep away unwelcome visitors.

Just add jam; the peanut butter plant.
Photo credit; Heronswood.

Now for something which smells interesting rather than nasty, what about the smell of peanut butter? You have your choice here with either peanut butter plant (Melianthus major) or harlequin glorybower (Clerodendron trichotomum). Both exude this unexpected smell when the leaves are crushed. Don’t like peanut butter? Well then don’t bruise the leaves…

Bad hair day?
If people can resemble their dogs why can’t plants resemble their caregivers? Having curly hair I can completely identify with the lesser corkscrew rush (Juncus effusus ‘Spiralis’) or for hat hair days the whipcord arborvitae  (Thuja plicata 'Whipcord') has an unnerving resemblance. Actually that may remind you more of the drummer Ringo Starr in his Beatles heyday. Both look great in one of those head shaped planters – the plants, not Ringo.

Punk horticulture.
What do you think of if I say “punk rockers”? To me it’s nose rings, black make up and SPIKES. For those of us who have ever gone blackberry picking, it is hard to imagine there is a redeeming quality about thorns. Yet there are some shrubs whose sharp talons deserve a closer (careful) look. Whilst enjoying exploring a friend’s garden one day, I was stopped in my tracks at the sight of a tall arching shrub with a seriously wicked attitude.  I had only seen the wingthorn rose (Rosa sericea ssp. omeiensis pteracantha) in books before and never quite understood why anyone would want to purchase, let alone don full body armor to plant such a rose.

Beauty or beast? Wingthorn rose.

The small white fragrant flowers appear briefly in May, followed by glossy red hips amongst the small fern-like leaves. However, the most decorative features are the large, ruby red thorns marching down the length of each stem, resembling the plates on a stegosaurus. When lit from behind these glow like stained glass, making this unusual rose a striking focal point.

The wicked Malevolence
Photo credit; Nancy Ondra

Another candidate for this spiky category would be the super-thorny white arching canes of ghost brambles (Rubus cockburnianus). Several members of the Solanum genus, (which includes gentler fruit such as the tomato) also have aggressively sharp thorns thickly lining the stems and even the undersides of the leaves. ‘Malevolence’ (Solanum atropurpureum ) lives up to its name with delicate buttery yellow flowers distracting the unwary gardener while sinking its long purple spikes deep into gloveless hands.

Did he drown or was he frozen?
'Dead mans fingers'
Photo credit - Bluebell nursery

Just plain strange.
For the more timid gardener there is always the delightful sounding dead man’s fingers (Decaisnea fargesii). Think swollen, bright blue, knobbly seed pods hanging from branches or go for the wire netting plant (Corokia cotoneaster) with its twisting and interlacing black branches.

Dare to be different and add a new kind of talking point!


  1. What a terrific post! I really enjoyed it. I, too, am a lover of the weird and wonderful. If you want to, go to my blog's search feature on the side bar and look up my old post, 'Under the Spell of the Voodoo Plant'. Yes, we are kindred spirits! I have read a couple of your other posts, too. You are an entertaining writer, and I eagerly look forward to exploring your blog further.

  2. Deb, thank you SO much for your kind words. When I read your blog I just knew I had found another gardening 'sister'! I look forward to lots of garden-exchanges in the future.

  3. Fun post! This is the kind of thing most non-plant people actually find interesting!

  4. I know Riz! In fact these are the weird things that are fun to point out to children (of all ages) as well as the nicer pansy 'faces' and how to 'snap' the dragons.

  5. Dead man's fingers looks like it came from outer space! WOW!

  6. And the weirder it is - the more we're fascinated, right?!

  7. So fun to profile all these really unusual plants. I love the dead man's fingers and I actually think the dragon arum is really pretty.

  8. Carolyn, those dead man's fingers have got quite the rave review! I've grown the arum too and loved it's prehistoric stalk coming through shady ground covers. I just made sure not to put a bench next to it.


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