Just when you think you know all the bizarre facts about nature and its creations, you come across a plant that produces flowers that look like Darth Vader! Scientists have so far discovered over 391,000 species of plants, 94% of which are flowering plants. Considering the sheer variety of plant life found on Earth, it is not surprising that evolution has thrown some odd ones in the mix as well. Here, we will take a look at 11 such unusual plants. Many of these are found in the deepest reaches of the wilderness,so, chances are you have never even heard of them!
1. Lithops, popularly known as “Flowering Stones” or “Living Stones,” are attractive, succulent plants that blend in perfectly with the stones found in their natural surroundings. Scientists say that they have evolved to look like that to avoid falling prey to grazing animals.
Native to southern Africa, lithops belong to the Aizoaceae family of succulent plants. The name “Lithops” comes from a combination of the Ancient Greek words “lithos” which means “stone” and “ops” which means “face.” When translated, the name perfectly describes the plant’s unique stone-like appearance. Found commonly in the vast dry stretches of South Africa and Namibia, lithops have evolved to look like stones so that grazing animals would not eat them.
The word “lithops” is actually singular and is used for describing single plants as well as a group of them. When you look at an individual lithops, you will see one or more bulbous, which are leaves that are almost fused opposite each other with hardly any stem. You will see meristem, a type of plant tissue, in the split between the bulbous. This area also produces leaves and flowers. Lithops leaves primarily stay buried under the soil. They also have a completely or partially translucent surface which is known as the “leaf window.” This window allows light to enter for photosynthesis.
During winter months, one or more leaf-pairs grow inside the already existing fused pair. In springtime, however, the old pair parts, revealing the new leaf-pairs. The old leaf-pairs then dry up. Drought may cause lithops leaves to shrink and disappear underneath the soil. After a new leaf-pair fully matures, white or yellow flowers emerge from the split section between the leaves. These sweetly scented flowers usually bloom during autumn, but they can also arrive prior to the summer solstice.
The coloring of lithops leaves is the most unique adaptation. As mentioned above, the leaves have windows. These epidermal windows come in shades of brown, grey, and cream. You can also find red lines, dots, and darker windowed areas depending on the species. Much like other fenestrated plants, lithops has green tissue lining the interiors of the leaves. The translucent tissue can be found under the epidermal windows.
Much like cactus, lithops store water in their thick leaves to survive long dry periods. Also, since these plants thrive in low-humid areas with little to no care, they make great houseplants. All they need is plenty of direct sunlight! (1, 2)
2. White baneberry, popularly known as ‘doll’s eyes,’ are novelty plants that produce white, roundish berries that look like eyes.
Actaea pachypoda, commonly known as “white baneberry: or “doll’s eyes,” is one of the most curious species of flowering plants belonging to the Actaea genus and Ranunculaceae family. Native to the eastern and midwestern United States, eastern Canada, and eastern North America, doll’s-eyes plants grow in loamy, upland soil and in mixed or hardwood forests.
It is a herbaceous perennial plant that can grow up to 1.6 feet tall or higher. It has bipinnate which are toothed compound leaves that can measure up to 16 inches long and 12 inches wide. The most striking feature of the plant is that it produces spherical berries which are typically white with dark-purple “pupils.” The berries grow in clusters on dark-pink stems. The plant also sports white flower clusters during the months of May and June. The dense raceme can be up to 10 centimeters long. Doll’s-eyes also have a red counterpart known as “red baneberry.”
The stems, berries, and other parts of the white baneberry are extremely poisonous to humans. The fruits contain cardiogenic toxins, and consuming them can cause hallucinations, dizziness, diarrhea, headaches, severe stomach cramps, salivation, and burning of throat and mouth. Ingesting the berries can also cause cardiac arrest and death! (1, 2)
3. The flowers of Anguloa uniflora, a type of orchid, look like swaddled babies.
Orchidaceae is a family of widespread and diverse flowering plants that produce fragrant and colorful blooms. Anguloa uniflora is part of the orchid family and is known for its unique flowers that look like swaddled babies. It took ten years for botanist duo Hipolito Ruiz Lopez and Antonio Pavon Jimenez to discover this species of orchid between 1777 and 1788. However, the plant would not be named for another ten years. Finally, in 1798, it was named Anguloa uniflora after Don Francisco de Angulo, a botanist and also the Peruvian Director-General of Mines.
Native to certain regions of Ecuador, Venezuela, and the Andes in Colombia, Anguloa uniflora is also known as “tulip orchid” and “swaddled babies orchid.” Compared to most orchid species, Anguloa uniflora is small, only growing up to 18 to 24 inches long. Upon inspection, you can see conical pseudobulbs just underneath the pleated, thin leaves. However, as you might have guessed, that is not the most striking aspect of this orchid. It is the complex structure of its flowers that gets the utmost attention. The flower bears a stark resemblance to a baby wrapped and cuddled in a cloth.
Compared to the overall size of the plant, the flowers tend to be quite large. Found mostly in white or cream colors, Anguloa uniflora flowers feel waxy to the touch. The plant typically blooms during the spring, and the flowers tend to be highly fragrant. Because of its resemblance to tulips, Anguloa uniflora is also called ‘tulip orchid’ in some regions. (1, 2)
4. The unique color and texture of silver torch cactus give it a woolly appearance.
Cleistocactus strausii, popularly known as the “wooly torch” or “silver torch,” is a type of perennial cactus that belongs to the Cactaceae family. Native to the mountainous regions of Argentina and Bolivia, the silver torch is commonly found at a height of 9,843 feet. The grayish-green columns are slender and straight, and they usually grow up to 9.8 feet tall and 2.5 inches wide. The columns, which develop from 25 ribs, have areoles densely covering the surface. You can also see 20 small white radials and four yellowish-brown spines that grow up to 1.5 inches long.
The woolly torch thrives in strong sunlight and free-draining soils but cannot withstand high temperatures. Unlike most cactus species found in deserts, the Cleistocactus strausii can bear sub-zero temperatures and frost and can even survive in -10 °C. Its natural habitat provides the woolly torch sufficient water during summertime, but winter tends to be almost completely dry. That is why watering this plant during winter months can cause the roots to rot.
The older plants produce burgundy or dark red flowers during the late summer months. The long cylindrical flowers grow up to 2.5 inches and protrude horizontally from each column. Much like other cactus plants in the genus, the silver torch flowers barely open and only the stamens and styles protrude. However, when cultivated, the plants blossom more freely. (1, 2)
5. Pitcher plants, which resemble goblets of varying sizes, are carnivorous plants with a sophisticated prey-trapping mechanism.
Any carnivorous plant with leaves that resemble pitchers can be called pitcher plants. The Old World plants belong to the Nepenthaceae family and Caryophyllales order, whereas the New World pitcher plants come from the Sarraceniaceae family and Ericales order. Cephalotus follicularis, also known as the “Western Australian pitcher plant,” is the single species belonging to the Cephalotaceae family. Commonly found in a diverse array of habitats, the pitcher plant can thrive even in poor soil conditions. You can find them in sandy coastal swamps and pine barrens.
Being a carnivore, the pitcher plant relies on small insects to obtain necessary nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen. The plant uses a sophisticated mechanism for trapping its prey. Its cupped leaves form a cavity and use nectar bribes and visual lures to attract crawling, flying, and foraging insects such as spiders and flies. The sides of the leaves are groovy and slippery, which prevents the insects from climbing out. When an insect falls into the pitcher, the plant begins the process of digestion. The insect is then converted into a combination of urea, ammonium, phosphates, peptides, and amino acids. (1, 2)