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Strange, Freaky, Odd-Looking Tropical Plants and Flowers

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The author lives in a quiet rural community in lower Puna on the Big Island. He's an avid gardener, traveler, and photographer.

A sight to behold: Creepy and unusual tropical species.

A sight to behold: Creepy and unusual tropical species.

Tropical plants and flowers are known for their exceptional beauty. However, there are a few species that look quite the opposite!

Their peculiar shapes, sizes, and colors defy imagination. Some look nightmarish; others appear as if they come from another planet!

Here’s a collection of the odd, the ugly, and the bizarre! Whether they make your skin crawl or fill you with awe, enjoy these unique creations from Mother Nature.

Note: The flowers and plants featured in this article are from the author’s garden in the lower Puna district (USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 12b) on the Big Island of Hawaii. All pictures are photographed by the author.

This anthurium's spadix looks like a gnarly finger full of blisters!

This anthurium's spadix looks like a gnarly finger full of blisters!

Anthurium (Anthurium sp.)

Anthurium is one of the most popular tropical ornamental plants. The colorful part of an anthurium blossom is not a petal, but a type of leaf called the spathe. The actual flowers are tiny, arranged in tight spirals along the spadix – elongated, spike shape structure at the center of each spathe. As the flowers mature, they develop into round lumps or "berries" along the spadix. Birds eat these berries and scatter the seeds. Anthurium is highly adaptable, easy to care for when kept indoors as a houseplant.

Is that a sea monster or the reproductive part of a Night-blooming Cereus flower?

Is that a sea monster or the reproductive part of a Night-blooming Cereus flower?

Night-blooming Cereus (Selenicereus sp.)

This nocturnal flowering plant belongs to a large family of cacti. It produces highly fragrant, gigantic blossoms (up to 1-foot diameter) that last only one night. The short-lived flower looks quite enchanted, except for the stigma – reaching out from the stamens – it resembles an octopus with dozens of waving tentacles! Some varieties produce yellow or magenta scaly fruits (aptly called the dragonfruits), which taste crunchy and juicy. Most Cereus species need trellises or fence posts for support. They all prefer full sun and well-drained, humus-rich soils.

The curious look of Soursop flower and fruit.

The curious look of Soursop flower and fruit.

Soursop (Annona muricata)

Soursop is a fruit tree native to the tropical regions of South America. It produces delicious edible fruits which taste like a combination of pineapple, strawberry, and banana. The fruit itself looks pretty bizarre, with dark green skin and spiky thorns. The flower buds are green, hanging in clusters along the tree trunk and branches. When they are ready to bloom, the buds abruptly unfurl their thick petals – strongly reminiscent of those horrible pods in the 1979 science fiction movie “Alien”!

Rattlesnake Ginger flowers look fantastic in tropical floral arrangements.

Rattlesnake Ginger flowers look fantastic in tropical floral arrangements.

Rattlesnake Ginger (Calathea crotalifera)

Rattlesnake Ginger is native to South and Central America. It produces an inflorescent bract that looks like a rattlesnake’s rattle! The upright bracts are 8-10 inches (20-25 cm) tall and come in red, green, or pale-yellow colors. This plant grows from underground rhizomes and is a distant relative of the culinary ginger root. In Hawaii, Rattlesnake Ginger spreads wildly in wet areas along streams and waterfalls. It is popular in flower arrangements due to its exotic look and long-lasting vase life.

Bixa seed pods look scary when they are fresh, even scarier when dried!

Bixa seed pods look scary when they are fresh, even scarier when dried!

Lipstick Bixa (Bixa orellana)

This large evergreen tropical shrub is native to Central and South America. It is the source of the well-known annatto pigment, which comes from the seeds inside the hideous seed pods! When dried, the pods split open and reveal the reddish-orange seed capsules inside. People in Peru, Mexico, Belize, and the Caribbean ground the seeds into a paste and use it as a cooking condiment. Commercially, the annatto pigment is used as a natural, non-toxic dye to add red/yellow/orange colors to foods (cheese, spice), cosmetics (lipstick, nail polish), and pharmaceutical products.

The infamous Noni fruit that smells and tastes (if you dare!) like vomit.

The infamous Noni fruit that smells and tastes (if you dare!) like vomit.

Noni (Morinda citrifolia)

Also known as Indian mulberry, Noni grows widely in the Pacific Islands, Southeast Asia, and many other tropical regions. This shrubby tree bears fruits and flowers year-round. The tiny white flowers sprout directly on top of the green fruits. Ripe fruits turn translucent white, become soft and mushy, and have an unpleasant pungent odor similar to the smell of vomit or moldy cheese! Noni is reportedly to have a myriad of medicinal benefits. Noni juice is a popular herbal drink believed to boost immune system and provide lots of antioxidants.

Beehive Ginger also makes beautiful, long-lasting tropical floral arrangement.

Beehive Ginger also makes beautiful, long-lasting tropical floral arrangement.

Read More From Dengarden

Beehive Ginger (Zingiber spectabile)

Also called Ginger Wort or Malaysian Ginger, this plant has a strange floral structure resembling a small beehive. Each "beehive" perches on top of a 2-3 feet (60-90 cm) tall stalk. The overlapping bracts (like human lips!) can be yellow, orange, or reddish maroon. As the bracts mature, their color and size change. The actual flowers are small, usually white with brown or purple spots, poking out of the bracts, like pointy tongues!

Spider Orchid may not be suitable for gardeners with arachnophobia!

Spider Orchid may not be suitable for gardeners with arachnophobia!

Spider Orchid (Brassia spp.)

Spider Orchid belongs to the Brassia Orchid family, producing spectacular flowers with extra-long, thin sepals (a type of petal) resembling a giant spider! Some species have sepals measured more than 12 inches (30 cm) long. Their colors are usually pale-green or yellow with brown spots. Each spray can have a dozen flowers lining up along the main stem, giving the appearance of an army of spiders on parade! Like most orchids, Brassia Orchid prefers high humidity and shady areas.

The oddly-shaped Giant Pelican Flower looks gorgeous despite its awful rotting flesh aroma.

The oddly-shaped Giant Pelican Flower looks gorgeous despite its awful rotting flesh aroma.

Giant Pelican Flower (Aristolochia grandiflora)

Commonly called Brazilian Dutchman's Pipe, this unique climbing vine is native to the humid rainforests of Costa Rica, Panama, and Brazil. The enormous flowers can measure up to 2 feet long and 1 foot wide, in burgundy red with distinctive white veins, resembling a slab of raw beef! As the flower ages, it emits a terrible stinking odor that attracts carrion flies which crawl inside the flower's throat and thus inadvertently pollinate it. Caution: All parts of this vine are toxic to humans and pets.

Strange but charming Golden Plume flowers.

Strange but charming Golden Plume flowers.

Golden Plume (Schaueria flavicoma)

Native to the tropical regions of South America, this shrubby flowering perennial is known for its peculiar yellow feathery panicles. However, the actual flowers are white and small, looking like little birds peeking out from their golden “nest"! This plant prefers shade to partial shade and blooms year-round in hot, humid tropical climates. It makes an attractive houseplant in cold-weather places due to its pretty, shiny green foliage. It will also produce flowers indoors, as long as it gets plenty of water and light.

The peculiar Bat Flower has dozens of long, dangling whiskers.

The peculiar Bat Flower has dozens of long, dangling whiskers.

Bat Flower (Tacca integrifolia)

True to its common name, this strange flower looks like a bat in flight with outspread wings! The two "wings" can be deep purple or white, hovering over a cluster of seed pods (baby bats!) underneath. However, the weirdest part is the numerous dangling “whiskers” or filaments which can measure up to 2 feet (60 cm) long! Bat Flower plant thrives in rich, moist soils and requires year-round warm temperatures. It is somewhat challenging to grow, but it will bloom prolifically and make a great conversation piece in the garden once established.

Martians from the Red Planet? Just the fruits of a Clerodendrum plant.

Martians from the Red Planet? Just the fruits of a Clerodendrum plant.

Turk’s Turbin (Clerodendrum indicum)

Native to Southeast Asia, this Clerodendrum species is known for its fragrant, lovely tubular-shaped creamy white flowers. However, when the flowers mature into seeds, they morph into little aliens! The green calyx at the base of each flower swells up and turns bright red, resembling an otherworldly creature with five arms/legs and a dark blue head! From a distance, the fruiting clusters look like red flowers. This plant is easy to grow, and when in bloom, it attracts hordes of butterflies and bees!

Sharp claws and hooks of a Blue Jade Vine flower cluster.

Sharp claws and hooks of a Blue Jade Vine flower cluster.

Blue Jade Vine (Strongylodon macrobotrys)

Also called Jade Vine or Emerald Vine, this woody climber is native to the lush tropical rainforests of the Philippines. Best known for its showy, cascading clusters of flowers in vivid turquoise – a color which is quite rare in the botanical world! Each dangling stalk can grow 3-4 feet (1.5 meters) long and contain 70-80 flowers. The claw-shaped flowers look vicious, but they are tender and harmless. This vine needs an arbor or pergola to climb on and spread its rambling branches.

Bewildered close-up look of a purple Lady's Slipper Orchid.

Bewildered close-up look of a purple Lady's Slipper Orchid.

Lady’s Slipper Orchid (Cypripedium spp.)

This one-of-a-kind orchid is a favorite among orchid enthusiasts and collectors around the world. The odd-looking flower features a prominent slipper-shaped pouch called labellum. Some hybrids develop unusually large, brilliantly colored labellum pouches that are irresistible to pollinators! Many species of Lady’s Slipper Orchid grow in cool, temperate, non-tropical regions across Europe, Africa, Asia, and North America. They thrive in forests, meadows, prairies, or swampy areas. Some of them are considered extremely rare, endemic, or endangered species.

The enchanted Black Orchid belongs to a fairytale.

The enchanted Black Orchid belongs to a fairytale.

Black Orchid (Monnierara Millennium Magic ‘Witchcraft’ FCC/AOS)

The color of this magnificent orchid is as close to black as nature would allow! A hybrid from three different orchid genera Catasetum, Cycnoches, and Mormodes, Black Orchid has robust root systems and does well in an orchid pot. After blooming, it will go dormant for a month or two, with all the leaves turning yellow and dropping, leaving just the bare pseudobulbs. Eventually, two to three new flower shoots emerge, each having about a dozen flower buds. The fragrant flowers last a very long time and look mysteriously like, well, a witch with a big nose wearing a black cape and hat!

Beauty and the beast is the best description for the Liliko'i passionflower (bottom) and their buds (top).

Beauty and the beast is the best description for the Liliko'i passionflower (bottom) and their buds (top).

Passionflower Vine (Passiflora sp.)

Passionflower looks exotic and possesses an equally seductive, exotic scent! There are dozens of varieties, growing mainly in the tropical and sub-tropical regions around the world. In Hawaii, the common liliko’i passionflowers resemble sea anemones. The flower buds look like the man-eating monster from the classic “Little Shop of Horrors” musical! Liliko’i fruits are edible, filled with sweet, juicy pulp and crunchy black seeds. The pulp tastes delicious; the black seeds, however, are not for the faint of heart!


Passionfruit has lots of slimy, crunchy black seeds.

Passionfruit has lots of slimy, crunchy black seeds.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Viet Doan

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