Theophanes is a New-England-based blogger, traveler, writer, photographer, sculptor, and lover of cats.
Gardens can be places of great peace and tranquility or they can be places of endless frustration. It really depends on who you are and what you're doing. In this article I wanted to approach a topic seldom spoken about, which is using plants to very quietly annoy someone.
There are many plants out there that are toxic enough to kill, but I'm a prankster, not a serial killer, so we'll be talking about far less deadly species and what kind of people they'd make the perfect gifts for.
1) Bradford Pear Trees
Who doesn't love a nice ripe pear? Or a tree that produces gorgeous flowers? There's a lot to love about the Bradford pear tree but there's also a lot to mutter about too. You see, the Bradford pear is the perfect plant for someone who is easily offended or embarrassed. For as beautiful as it is, and as delicious as its fruits are, it has one strange characteristic that often has the neighborhood buzzing: In the springtime, it seems as if those beautiful flowers let off a pungent and often unwanted smell. Some people say it smells like rotting fish but most people I have talked to agree it has a far more masculine aroma... if you've ever been out walking a very decent looking street and have suddenly been overcome with the overpowering smell of a good wank, this tree is likely to blame. It has a whole series of colorful nicknames because of this, and if the smell isn't enough to sell you, it also grows and spreads like a weed and is being considered as a pest species. Its branches are also super brittle and it likes to throw them on the ground whenever it tires of them. Did I mention grass won't grow under them? Sounding better all the time!
This is the perfect tree for an uptight germaphobe.
I know what you're saying: "Bamboo? What's wrong with bamboo?" Nothing really if you're trying to breed pandas in your backyard, otherwise everything is wrong with bamboo. It is actually mutant grass, or rather grass that grows ridiculously thick and tall. If you're building with it, or feeding a swarm of hungry pandas, it can be a very useful quick-growing plant. Otherwise, that quick growth will be the bane of your existence.
Bamboo likes to grow, and grow, and grow, and spread, and what starts as this cute little patch to accent your yard will soon turn into the same sort of dense impassable forest you see in fairy tales surrounding the castle the princess is in. And when you realize this, you'll probably go homicidal and start ripping the plants up by the roots or hacking them down with a machete in a terribly cathartic exercise, but when it comes right down to it, bamboo is harder to kill than cockroaches. Once it's in your yard, it's staying! Ripped up by the roots or not!
It is the perfect plant to annoy a control freak.
3) English Ivy
English ivy is so pretty creeping up the walls of little old cottages, making them look quaint and adorable, like Little Red Riding Hood is about to knock on the door. What possible complaint could I have about something so mundane as an English ivy?
Well, as it turns out, most people who grow it for decorative purposes seem to have little knowledge about how these plants actually crawl up walls. They do so by finding little cracks in the mortar and jamming their wee roots in there to hang on. Doesn't sound that bad, but one small root will become a cluster of roots as the plant grows and before you know it these vines are literally ripping your chimney down, brick by brick.
Give this gift to the neighbor you'd like to get rid of.
4) Poison Sumac
I admit, I love sumac. It makes my heart dance with joy to know I can buy it at the local nursery, though at times I wonder why this is. Sumac looks positively tropical, like it's been imported straight out of Jurassic Park. It has creeping slender branches topped off with exotic red flowers. The problem arises when you are so taken by its beauty you feel the need to touch it. This plant causes intense itching to people who are allergic to it, and that's probably most of you out there. I am one of the lucky few that can roll in this stuff and walk off without consequence.
Give it as a gift to distract your antagonists.
Sometimes, plants can be annoying without smelling like something dead. This is often the case with cockleburs. They're a fun plant because of how innocuous they really are. Cockleburs occur naturally across the US and you've probably gotten into them before. They're weedy for sure but that's not what makes them irritating— it's their seeds that provide for happy passive-aggression. The seeds are encased in prickly shells that attach to any passersby, like so many tiny unwanted hitchhikers. These burs are particularly nasty if you get them wrapped up in your— or your pet's— hair. At that point, they're nearly impossible to remove and it's easy to get covered by these prickly intruders before you even notice!
Plant a field of these between you and your annoying neighbors.
6) Stinging Nettle
Stinging nettle is an herb much-loved by a great many people who use it in teas, cheesemaking, and various herbal remedies, but for every person who loves nettle there's at least three other people cursing it out. These plants grow everywhere in the US and if they find nitrogen-rich soil, they can grow into whole forests, with each bush reaching 6 to 8 feet in height. Most people weed them long before they become so mighty, for the simple reason that they're much easier to deal with when they're small. A pair of gardening gloves can protect you from the hairs that grow on them. Each hair provides a delightful little sting and some cheerful bumps. The pain usually resides after fifteen minutes, so these plants are more annoying than dangerous. I have harvested them when they're towering over my head and it was a lot harder to dodge their stings with the leaves fluttering in my face! That being said, I am so used to their stings I stopped caring quite some time ago. Gardening gloves are for sissies.... Cough, cough.
This plant is great if you want to be sneaky. It'd be very hard to prove you dropped some seeds like breadcrumbs on your victim's property, unless they found the invoice for seeds because yes, people do purposely buy them for growing. Great for people with low pain tolerance.
7) Voodoo Lillies
OK, so right out of the gate this plant has already introduced itself in a possibly racist manner. Voodoo lily? Really? We could not come up with a better name than that? Only if you want to call it the Devil's tongue or an elephant yam (I wish I had made this up but really, these are alternate names for this plant). They do belong to the family of flowers we like to call "stink lilies," if that makes it any better.
I must admit from a purely aesthetic vantage point, I am rather fond of voodoo lilies. They look delightfully suggestive with their gothic flair. How can you not love that? The smell, that's how you can not love that. Voodoo lilies are carnivorous plants, meaning they literally eat bugs. Sounds like a good thing until you realize their favorite snack is flies.... flies that it baits into its flowers by smelling like putrid, rotting flesh.
This plant comes from a bulb and I am told are easy to grow and bloom for quite a while. Will your passive-aggressive sparring partner realize that the smell of corpses is coming from such a pretty little thing?
8) Beggar's Lice
Cockleburs are annoying but beggar's lice are even more so. They have much the same idea for spreading their seeds around except their seeds are like tiny little needles that stick to just about everything by the handful. They're hard to extract because of their small size and will drive anyone with OCD completely mad... which is a great reason to give them to neatniks.
Hogweed was imported as an ornamental plant by some sadistic wretch at some point... Now it grows wild and free over many parts of the US. This plant isn't anything you want to tango with. Besides growing to a monstrous fifteen feet in height, it also has the charming characteristic of causing severe burns on anyone who touches it and then encounters sunlight at some point. Even worse, these burns can reoccur for up to ten years after the initial exposure to the plant, so long as the victim is in the sun. As such, this plant is not for amateurs. In fact, whoever ends up with hogweed planted purposely on their property has to be an individual of poor local standing at the very least! These plants have become such a problem that if you spot one, you're supposed to call whatever government office deals with these situations in your area. Most places have help lines and free removal and if you're lucky you get to see men in HAZMAT suits use flamethrowers to sterilize your property!
Perhaps a lovely bouquet for someone who hurt you?
10) Gympie Gympie, the Suicide Plant
As it turns out Australia has a lot to offer the world: the most poisonous snakes, the biggest sharks, the most lethal spiders, and the crankiest fluffy creatures you've ever met. (Seriously, have you ever tried to befriend a koala? They're mean drunks, all of them!) But in addition to these there is also the Gympie Gympie tree, also known as the suicide plant. It's not called this because it's toxic enough to kill you; instead, it got this cheerful nickname from the fact that if you are unlucky enough to touch one, you'll probably want to commit suicide from the pain.
Each prickly hair covering the entire plant pumps toxins into your skin that are said to be worse than childbirth. It's a sensation of being burned by acid and electrocuted at the same time, and if that isn't enough to make you want to run screaming for the hills, then perhaps its longevity is. The pain can last up to a year after exposure and can be so intense it's known to drive dogs and horses mad enough to leap off cliffs to their death. And if you think dried specimens are safe, you'd be in for yet another surprise. Their toxins are "chemically stable," meaning you can get stung just as badly from a plant that's been dead and dried for ten years as a fresh one!
This plant is surely for the worst of the worst, so if you happen to find yourself in Australia living next to the world's most prolific pedophile or genocidal maniac, feel free to sneak some of these beauties over to their property. Otherwise, stay well away!
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.
BRS on September 01, 2019:
It would be nice to drive past, throw some bamboo seeds onto their lawn in the middle of the night. In these days of CCTV on just about every house, one may not be able to get away with it as easily as in the past. For me, hands down, bamboo. Once it's there, it's there forever and ever and ever.
Seyit S Cihan from Ankara, Turkey on September 09, 2018:
They must eradicate the suicide plant off the earth. It's worse than ringwraiths, balrogs and a match for the Dark Lord himself.
Jacob11213 on July 05, 2018:
How is voodoo lily racist? That doesn't make any sense.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 29, 2017:
Wow...some of these plants sound absolutely horrible! The fact that exposure to some of them like the Hogweed can last for so many years after initial contact makes it even worse. Yikes!
Mary Wickison from Brazil on April 21, 2017:
An interesting idea for an article.
We have bamboo, 4 clusters of the stuff and one is near my fence and blows a voluminous amount of leaves into my neighbor's yard. I like my neighbors but my husband likes the bamboo so he said, it's staying.
You've got the stinging, stinking, and downright annoying on here.
That pear tree is so pretty, shame about the smell, though.