10 Wonderful And Weird Plants in the World

Plants are beautiful, peculiar things. They grow and bloom in an assortment of shapes, colors, sizes, and aromas. And while there’s no question that nature is fascinating and amazing, there are some species whose mystique is awe inspiring—like these below. Their unusual, independent behavior is more person than plant-like. We promise you’ll say “Wow, that’s so cool!” after reading about each one of these weird and wonderful beauties.

List of 10 Wonderful and Weird Plants

1. Amethyst Sea Holly

2. Syrian Bear’s Breeches

3. Night-Blooming Cerus

4. Rhododendrons

5. Lizard Ice Plant

6. Black Hollyhock

7. Prayer Plant

8. Pitcher Plant

9. Birds of Paradise Bush

10. Haller’s Pasqueflower

Detailed Information of 10 Wonderful and Weird Plants

1. Amethyst Sea Holly

Photo: Gardening Know How
Photo: Gardening Know How

Eryngos are found throughout much of Eurasia and the New World, from the Caucasus Mountains in the east to Patagonia in the south. All eryngos are strangely alluring: Their foliage can be wildly incised and almost prickly; their flowers are mostly steely grays and blues. They act almost like everlastings if cut just before they’re in full bloom.

Over the years, I’ve grown dozens of species and cultivars, and have a fondness for all of them. But supreme in the genus, in my opinion, is the late-summer-blooming, amethyst-flowered sea holly. The foliage is extravagantly slashed and twisted, delightful in and of itself. But starting in August and lasting for much of the autumn, a well-established clump will sport dozens of sizeable flowers that blend violet purple, hot pink and cobalt blue in the most alluring combination. And it looks different in different lights. This irresistible plant is easily grown in a border or rock garden, and blooming as it does, at a relatively slow season for the garden, makes it a standout—albeit a rather peculiar one!

2. Syrian Bear’s Breeches

Photo: Winged Beauty Buttleflies
Photo: Winged Beauty Buttleflies

The genus Acanthus possesses the stylized beauty of a Bette Davis, rather than the starlet charm of an ingénue. These plants are dowager divas of the Gardens, hoary with lore. The only common name they have in English is “Bear’s Breeches”—a rather amusing idea, if you think about it. The ancient Greeks loved Acanthus so much they used the lobed leaves’ shape as a model for molding on buildings and for the lavish Corinthian columns. Acanthus patterning persists in modern design, although few of us recognize it.

Several species are found in the leading local garden centers from time to time. Acanthus spinosus is very large and exotic, but has proved tough as well. Acanthus balcanicus (also known as A. longifolius and A. hungaricus) is especially hardy and suitably strange. But A. syriaca, which we’ve had at the Gardens for nearly 20 years now, is the most peculiar and beautiful of the genus to my eyes. It thrives in both dappled shade and full sun, forming compact clumps of prickly foliage. The flowers emerge in late May and look stunning through much of the summer, with deeply stained violet-purple bracts and creamy, face-like flowers poking out alluringly.

Funny how some plants look as though they may turn into animals and ambulate, and believe me, this is one such quasi-quadruped! A few mail-order nurseries offer this plant from time to time, and it merits the search.

3. Night-Blooming Cerus

Photo: Amazon
Photo: Amazon

Cacti are known more for their prickly spines than their blooms. That is, unless you’re talking about the night-blooming cereus (cereus is a genus of cacti that bloom at night). It’s infamous for its short-lived, silvery-white nighttime blooms. By blooming at night, they reduce competition for pollinators for other plants. The majestic “Queen of the Night,” which is one type of night-blooming cereus, not only blooms at night, it also only blooms once a year!

4. Rhododendrons

Photo: Garden Design
Photo: Garden Design

Rhododendrons are cold hardy evergreen shrubs. But just because most species are able to withstand a hard freeze, doesn’t mean the weather can’t get too cold for their taste. On frosty winter and spring mornings, their long, leathery leaves curl up like cigars. Rhododendrons do this as a defense mechanism to protect themselves from dehydration in cold weather. Since the shrub loses water through its leaves, whenever the ground is frozen, the roots aren’t able to sip enough groundwater from the soil to replace what would be lost through the leaves—so its leaves spiral inward to keep water from escaping. Once the ground warms again, its leaves unfurl.

5. Lizard Ice Plant

Photo: Consulta Plantas
Photo: Consulta Plantas

Hardy ice plants have become some of the most popular ground covers in our region over the last few decades. Most of them grow rather quickly, and spread a bit too fast for some spots. But there is a whole suite of clumping or slower-growing ice plants that are especially well suited to the rock garden or xeriscape. None are more fascinating than the genus Aloinopsis, which is practically restricted to the highest ridge tops of the interior of South Africa, where winter temperatures are very cold indeed.

The strangest and most alluring of these has to be Aloinopsis malherbei, which really does look more like a lizard than a plant. The wonderful, succulent leaves are covered with strange, warty tubercles that are rough to the touch. When the miraculous flowers come out in spring, the plant looks like Beauty and the Beast! This ice plant needs a well-drained spot in sun.

Since horned toads are a bit too exotic for our gardens, this vegetable lizard makes a great substitute. Best of all, it doesn’t bite or shoot blood out of its eyes!

6. Black Hollyhock

Photo: Amazon
Photo: Amazon

It’s worth doing a Google image search for this hollyhock—you’ll be amazed by how many hundreds of stunning photographs have been taken of it. Like all hollyhocks, this one thrives in almost any type of soil—from clay to sand to rich loam—provided it is not overwatered. I remember hollyhocks growing in all the alleyways of Boulder when I was a child, usually pink, white and purple ones. This unusual black selection deserves a prominent spot in the garden, and looks especially lovely combined with pale, straw-colored annual sunflowers.

Like all hollyhocks, this plant produces a lush basal rosette of pale, gray-green seersucker leaves that persist through winter. The towering stem shoots up in spring and can reach 6 feet when happy. The flowers are sported in flushes through the summer. I have not found this hollyhock to be as susceptible to mildew as some kinds of mallows, but I would avoid too much watering in the afternoon or evening hours. Water it in the morning, so the leaves can dry out quickly. If your plants do get unsightly with mildew, just cut off and discard the affected parts—fresh new leaves will come out quickly.

In the meantime, you can marvel at the ebony sheen of the silky flowers for months on end in the summer. Nothing takes me back to childhood quicker than bees buzzing in hollyhock hoops. I wonder if children still make these into little doll dresses.

7. Prayer Plant

Photo: Youtube
Photo: Youtube

The prayer plant (Maranta leuconeura) has broad, oval-shaped, variegated leaves that lay flat during the day, then fold upright at night, like a pair of hands clasped together in evening prayer.

This behavior is called nyctinasty, and it happens in response to changes in the sunlight. Some speculate that a prayer plant’s leaves fold up at night because it stops rain from collecting on the leaves and sends it straight to the roots. Because of this amazing plant behavior, many people place prayer plants at cemeteries, as they symbolize prayers for the deceased.

8. Pitcher Plant

Photo: The Desert Sun
Photo: The Desert Sun

Pitcher plants give the expression “farm-to-table” a whole new meaning. They’re one of a Mother Nature’s carnivorous plants—plants that eat ants, flies, crickets, and any other insect that makes the mistake of passing by. After sitting on the rim of a pitcher plant’s cupped leaf, bugs are lured deep into the plant’s belly by a nectar which it secretes. The inside walls of the plant are so steep and slippery, the insect can’t climb out and eventually dies.

But of course there’s a reason they do this: Since these plants tend to grow in poor soil conditions, they’re unable to soak up enough nutrients and minerals through their roots (like other plants do), so they must depend on other means (like consuming insects) to get their nourisment.

*****READ MORE: How to take care of your indoor plants - Some useful tips!

9. Birds of Paradise Bush

Photo: The Spruce
Photo: The Spruce

This name causes a bit of confusion; there is another bird of paradise plant (Strelitzia), commonly planted in Mediterranean climates, that comes from South Africa and is in the banana family. Our shrubby bird is in a flamboyant branch of the pea family. It has wide-open, face-like flowers that strain your credulity when you realize they are glorified beans. This bird can form a small tree in the Andean foothills of Argentina, whence it hails, and is the only shrubby South American plant to prove hardy in the Denver area thus far. The stems are not hardy in the coldest winters, however. They will often freeze to the ground and reemerge late in spring and still manage to grow 8 or 10 feet in a season.

The plant starts to produce huge panicles of strange and wonderful spidery blooms in June. The show continues right up to frost, when the flowers are augmented with big, bean-like pods decorative through the winter in their own right. Give this bush a protected microclimate in the garden—along the sunny side of a house or against a boulder, so it can endure. Although it’s planted in the open at Denver Botanic Gardens, it receives the full heat blast of the “urban island” effect.

10. Haller’s Pasqueflower

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

I think I have taken more pictures of our native pasqueflower (Pulsatilla patens) than of almost any wildflower. Why? Because it blooms so early in spring, when we are all quite desperate for color. And, of course, it is hugely photogenic. One must always try to better one’s efforts each spring! Alas, our native species is recalcitrant in cultivation—I have only had it persist a year or two at best, and it flowers more feebly in the garden than in nature. The common European pasqueflower is wildly flamboyant and showy, but lacks the winsome charm of our native hairy beast.

But there is an easily grown pasqueflower from Eurasia—Pulsatilla halleri—that is superficially very similar to our native species in its opalescent lavender flower color. The extravagantly hairy seed heads in late spring are almost as gratifying as the flowers. Although the plant is not universally available, a local wholesale nursery is building up stock. And there are many commercial seed sources, including the North American Rock Garden Society’s famed seed list, where this is a mainstay. Each year I’m astonished by the silky, woolly flower buds emerging from the ground like some mysterious prehistoric creature—a spectacle well worth the effort to stage in your own garden.

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