20 of the Most Surreal Plants We've Ever Seen
Cavendishia grandifolia or Tropical Blueberries
The neotropical blueberry is known for its emerging "superfood" title and its "udderly" unusual flowers. The tubular, painted blossoms of the Cavendishia grandifolia grow together in waxy clusters in their native Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia—often in cloud forests. Spotted at the New York Botanical Garden.
Couroupita guianensis or Cannonball Tree
Native to the rainforests of Central and South America, the cannonball tree produces wildly fragrant flowers that give way to fruits that grow directly from the trunk. The stinky fruits resemble rusty cannonballs! Spotted at Singapore Botanic Gardens
Even hungrier than fellow carnivore the Venus flytrap, the tropical pitcher plant (Nepenthes) is famed for its slippery, fluid-retaining, elaborately patterned "monkey cups." These pitchers lure, trap, and eventually absorb the nutrients of their prey. Lids prevent the rain from watering down its deadly elixir. Spotted at Gardens by the Bay.
With flowers described as resembling everything from monkeys to dancing ladies, orchids are synonymous with freaky flora. This wildly patterned Paphiopedilum slipper orchid is kind of like "the scream" emoji come to life. Spotted at the Santa Barbara International Orchid Show.
Aeonium tabuliforme or Dinner Plate Aeonium
Pull up a chair! The dinner plate aeonium (Aeonium tabuliforme) is the cartoonishly flattened cousin of the aeoniums you already know and love. This trippy green Frisbee can work as a houseplant and does well in containers with well-drained soil. Spotted at Terra Sol Garden Center.
Carnegiea gigantea or Saguaro Cactus
All hail the mighty saguaro! The iconic cactus of the Sonoran Desert is iconic for its treelike, slow-growing habit; a single arm of a saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea) can take up to a century to grow. Native bird species like Gila woodpeckers bore holes into the plant to make their nests. Spotted at Desert Botanical Garden.
Dorstenia gigas or Socotran Fig Tree
Endemic to the otherworldly Socotra Island off the coast of Yemen, this wildly proportioned Socotran fig tree (Dorstenia gigas) is a succulent known for its swollen trunks and stems. If you bring one home, give it bright light to full sun, warm temps, and let the soil dry out before drenching. Spotted at Gardens by the Bay.
One of the rarest plants on Earth and extinct in the wild, Wood's Cycad (Encephalartos woodii) is known for its theatrical crowns, vibrant cones (on the males), and its prehistoric heritage. Known as "living fossils," cycads date back about 300 million years to the Permian Period. Spotted at Lotusland.
The Medusa's head euphorbia (Euphorbia caput-medusae) is known for its snakelike branches that come at you like a green Gorgon. Pick up one of these special succulents and you won't turn to stone -- you'll fall in love. Spotted at the San Diego Home and Garden Show.
Known as the candelabra tree, Euphorbia ingens comes in upright and weeping varieties, and makes a major landscape statement with its columnar form that reaches up to 30 feet high. Plus it's easy to propagate and very drought-tolerant! Spotted at Lotusland.
Resembling a swarm of flying saucers, the leopard plant (Farfugium japonicum) is an excellent way to show off your love for daring leaf shapes. The plant is a cluster-forming member of the aster family, thrives in part shade to nearly full sun, and makes a big statement in containers. Spotted on the La Jolla Secret Garden Tour.
Ficus kurzii or Burmese Banyan Tree
Banyan trees like this Ficus kurii are known for their wealth of aerial prop roots that come to resemble bona fide trunks. Over time a single tree can become its own forest.Spotted at Singapore Botanic Gardens.
Johannesteijsmannia altifrons or Joey Palm
You'll feel like Alice in Wonderland next to this Joey palm (Johannesteijsmannia altifrons), whose huge, beautiful leaves appear to spring right from the ground. (The trunk is subterranean.) Stems can reach up to 10 feet long. Spotted at Singapore Botanic Gardens.
Mounting Staghorn Ferns
Flora, meet fauna. The currently fashionable staghorn and elkhorn ferns (Platycerium) are epiphytes that can be found growing on trees and rocks in areas tropical and temperate alike, wowing fans with their antler-shape fronds. Spotted at City Farmers Nursery.
Nelumbo nucifera or Sacred Lotus
The flowers of the sacred lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) soar on thick stems up to 5 feet above the surface of their aquatic habitats. The superhydrophobic leaves also can hover! Amazingly, the lotus plant is able to regulate the temperature in its blossoms, generating heat even when it's much colder outside -- perhaps in a ploy to attract beetles and other cold-blooded pollinators. Spotted at Lotusland.
Passiflora edulis or Passion Vine
A flower that seems to be made of pure sci-fi stardust, the passion flower (Passiflora edulis) fascinates thanks to the stacking of its parts: flat petals, vibrant sizzle of coronal filaments, and Sputnik stamens. There are a wide range of Passiflora species for a wide range of zones. Vines are vigorous and yield (you guessed it) passionfruit. Spotted on The Horticult.
Strongylodon macrobotrys or Jade Vine
The blue-green flowers of the jade vine (Strongylodon macrobotrys) are so bright and arresting, they look almost radioactive. These cascading beauties are pollinated by bats that hang upside down to drink the plant's nectar. Native to the forests of the Philippines, the jade vine is a threatened species. Spotted at the New York Botanical Garden.
Tacca chantieri or Bat Flower
The search for the perfect black flower ends here. Native to tropical Southeast Asia, these gorgeous goth blossoms grow up to 3 feet tall and have "whiskers" (trailing filaments) that can grow over 2 feet long. Spotted at Hong Kong Park.
Theobroma cacao or Cocoa Tree
Paging Willy Wonka: Cocoa fruits grow directly from the bark of the Theobroma cacao tree. The scientific term for this kind of botanical sorcery? Cauliflory, a strategy that appeals to pollinators that can't climb or fly. Spotted at United States Botanical Garden.
Victoria cruziana or Santa Cruz Water Lily/Water Platter
The Santa Cruz water lily, or water platter, is the hardier cousin of the giant water lily. The ostentatious leaves lie flat on the water and have textured margins, waxy surfaces, and intense spines underneath to deter predators. Beetles are attracted to its dreamy, heat-producing white flowers. Spotted at Singapore Botanic Gardens.