10 weird plants that seem more supernatural than natural
1. Bleeding heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis) Native to Siberia, northern China, Korea and Japan, bleeding heart gets its name from its heart shape and distinctive white tips which resemble droplets. The first specimens were introduced to the UK in the nineteenth century by botanist Robert Fortune. They bloom in springtime.
2. Cockscomb (Celosia argentea var. cristata)
This bushy plant has dense, brain-like flowers nicknamed wool flowers or brain celosia. Despite its unsettling appearance, cockscomb has a rich history in traditional medicine and has been used to treat everything from headaches to menstrual cramps.
3. Japanese blood grass (Imperata cylindrica)
Cogon grass, or Japanese bloodgrass, earns its name from its blood-red spikes. A perennial plant, Japanese bloodgrass is popular with gardeners for its bold colour. But beware: though, any variety of cogon grass without the red tips is highly invasive. It is also very flammable, burning at higher temperatures than native grasses which can lead to wildfires.
4. Witches’ hair (Cuscata)
Witches’ hair (Cuscata), also known by the equally spooky name of strangleweed (and the less scary dodder), is a genus of over 200 different parasitic plants. It is native to tropical climates but also appear in temperate areas – including the UK. Cuscata is often identifiable as a mass of green, brown or orange spaghetti-like substance hanging from other trees. It lacks chlorophyll so it needs to feed from other plants (not unlike a vampire) to reproduce. Even stranger, Cuscata can identify the plants around it based on smell alone.
5. Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
This popular kitchen herb may be more commonly associated with sauce than sorcery, but this hasn’t always been the case. Victorian floriography – the practice of assigning codes to flowers to send messages via bouquets and arrangements, also called the language of flowers – associates basil with hatred. This link comes from the ancient Greeks who felt the plant’s leaves resembled a basilisk’s opening jaws. Maybe you’ll pause before sprinkling your friend’s pizza with this hateful herb next time…
Basil is mostly confined to cooking these days, but once it was a popular addition to a bouquet © Billion Photos/ Shutterstock
6. Belladonna (Atropa belladonna)
Belladonna or deadly nightshade is an extremely toxic herb that, when eaten, causes delirium, hallucinations and eventually death. Belladonna literally translates to ‘beautiful lady’, and during the Medieval period, women used the berries’ juice to dilate their pupils to appear more attractive (do not try this!). Deadly nightshade has also been the poison of choice throughout history and literature, and its reputation led to the belief that witches could use it to fly. Belladonna belongs to the Solanaceae (nightshade) family which includes tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplants.
7. Wolf’s bane (Aconitum)
Wolf’s bane is the name of a genus of flowering plants in the Ranunculaceae family. Identifiable by its beautiful flowers, wolf’s bane is a fast-acting poison which can result in nausea, vomiting, paralysis, breathing and heart problems before killing you. It was used to create poison arrows in China and like Belladonna, was a popular poison in ancient Rome. Wolf’s bane got its name from when it was used to poison wolves and panthers in the eighteenth century. As fact often blurs into fiction, this use has morphed in popular culture, where it is often shown to be an effective werewolf deterrent.
8. Hemlock (Conium maculatum)
The extremely hardy, poisonous hemlock is an invasive plant that can grow to heights of 2.4 metres. Its seeds and roots are especially poisonous. If being deadly was not enough to put you off, hemlock also has a repulsive smell which can be carried on the wind. In ancient Greece, hemlock was used to poison prisoners, including the philosopher Socrates.
9. Carrion plant (Stapelia gigantea)
A flowering plant native to the desert regions of Tanzania and South Africa, the carrion flower (or toad flower) earns its name from its absolutely repulsive smell. It releases a rotting-flesh odour to attract flies to pollinate it. The plant smells so terrible that scientists are working on ways to use it as a human appetite suppressant.
10. Cobra lily (Darlingtonia californica)
Arguably the cutest of the spooky entries in this list, the cobra lily or Californian pitcher plant is a carnivorous plant that grows in bogs. Its name comes from its tubular top which resembles a cobra’s hood, while its forked leaf looks like a tongue. The plant traps insects by luring them in, and once the prey is inside, light shining through the translucent hood prevents it from finding the exit. The downward-pointing hairs ensure the insect’s trip is one way.