May 22, 2010

10 Unusual Plants - Alien-Plant

The sweet smell of hyacinth or lilac, tailored gardens – normally we associate these sensations with plants and flowers, not rotting flesh, attacks on insects or massive upside down tree trunks. There may not be real man-eating Venus fly traps, but there are certainly some wonders on earth that are rare and highly unusual. From the ranges of the rain forest to the Islands that dot the oceans, these are some of most amazing plants that Mother Nature has for us.

10. Dracunculus vulgaris

The flowers are stunning, with rich purple colour and a long black appendix which can reach a total length of 135 cm. This plant also goes by the names Dragon Arum, Voodoo Lily, Ragons, Snake Lily, Black Arum, Black Dragon, Dragonwort, & Stink Lily, and is most commonly found in an area ranging from the Balkans through Greece to Turkey. The eerie erotic beauty of this plant can be a little shocking, as the leaves continue to develop into a spiral and have been described as looking like antlers. Pretty yes, but don’t stick your nose in for a sniff of this plant. The odor is that of rotting flesh, because it needs to attract carrion-eating pollinators.

9. Amorphophallus

This rather bizarre and tall plant translates into English as, literally, “shapeless male genitalia”, with the taller species having Titan affixed to the name (from Ancient Greek amorphos, “without form, misshapen” + phallus, “penis”, and titan, “giant”). OK, not a stretch for that one. This plant grows in the subtropical zones from West Africa to the Pacific Islands, yet the larger species of the plant is indigenous to the equatorial rain forests of Sumatra, Indonesia. It is distinguished by a single, elongated center called a corm and a single large leaf that wraps around it. While this plant commonly grows well over 1.5 meters in the wild, the most titanic of the species was cultivated in Germany, gaining a height of nearly 3 meters (9 ft, 6 in). Astoundingly, the entire stalk and its crowning leafy ensemble is a single leaf (inflorescence). And much like the Dracunculus, this plant is of the similar genera that have big flowers that mimic dead, rotting, stinking gunk. They do this so that insects of the right sort will buzz in from far and wide in search of nasty, smelly things to crawl around on. Pollination occurs. The plant gets what it wants. Thus, the common English name for this plant: “corpse flower”, though “necrophilia bulb” isn’t bad either.

8. Rafflesia arnoldii

Several species of Rafflesia grow in the jungles of southeast Asia, including the Philippines. Many of them are threatened or endangered. It lives as a parasite on the Tetrastigma vine, which grows only in primary (undisturbed) rainforests. Rafflesia lacks any observable leaves, stems or even roots, yet is still considered a vascular plant. Similar to fungi, individuals grow as thread-like strands of tissue completely embedded within and in intimate contact with surrounding host cells from which nutrients and water are obtained. Perhaps the only part of Rafflesia that is identifiable as distinctly plant-like are the flowers, identified as the largest single plant flower on the planet. Rafflesia arnoldii is rare and fairly hard to locate. It is especially difficult to locate the flower in forests as the buds take many months to develop and the flower lasts for just a few days. The flowers are unisexual and thus proximity of male and female flowers is vital for successful pollination. These factors make successful pollination a rare event.
How many of these plants still survive is unknown, but as the remaining primary forests of Borneo and Sumatra disappear, it can only be assumed that their numbers are dwindling. The species are known to be nearing extinction. Some environmentalists are thinking of a way to recreate the species’ environment, in an effort to stimulate a recovery in the population of this endangered species. This has proved unsuccessful so far, but the efforts have continued. Steps are also being taken to conserve the forests of Sumatra and Borneo.

7. Wollemia nobilis

This bizarre-looking tree, long thought to be extinct, is the only species of its genus. Prior to its discovery in 1994 the Wollemia nobilis was previously known only from fossil leaves which dated as far back as 200 million years. Interestingly, the discovery came as a result of a random “walk in the forest” by an Australian park ranger named David Noble, who just happened to have a good eye and a knowledge of botany. Today fewer than one hundred exist in the wild, in three localities not far apart, though it is difficult to count the population as most trees are multi-stemmed and may have connected root systems. The trees, which can grow up to a height of 125 feet, have strange bark that looks like bubbles of chocolate, multiple trunks, and ferny-looking leaves growing in spirals.

6. Welwitschia mirabilis

Welwitschia mirabilis, consisting of only only two leaves and a stem with roots, is a bizarre species of dioecious gymnosperm native to the Namibian deserts of SW Africa. The two strap-like leaves will reach up to 6-8 feet (1.82-2.43 m) in length (and eventually longer) and up to 3 feet (0.91 m) wide. The two leaves arise from a short woody stem and continue to grow throughout the plants lifetime, which may be centuries long (its estimated lifespan is 400 to 1500 years). Leaves will split lengthwise into many segments. The stem, which typically gets thicker rather than higher, can reach up to 1.5 feet (45 cm) tall and up to 5 feet (1.52 m) across. Discovered it in 1859, it is considered a living fossil, a true relic of the past.

5. Wolffia angusta

This little plant is teeny-tiny, itsy-bitsy. It is the world’s smallest flower. A dozen plants would easily fit on the head of a pin and two plants in full bloom will fit inside a small printed letter “o.” This species of plant lives on the water, floating at the surface of ponds, swamps and quiet streams. They are distributed throughout the world, particularly in warm temperate and tropical regions. In order to survive on water they are greatly reduced flowering plants, without leaves or stems, and with only the remnants of vascular tissue in some species. The plant has been nicknamed “watermeal” because they look and feel like small, mealy particles in the water. Five species of Wolffia are now known to occur in the western United States, with 11 species worldwide.

4. Hydnora africana

The Hydnora is found in Namibia and South Africa, growing on the roots of neighbouring plants. This parasite attaches itself to Euphorbia roots 5-15cm below ground, but will not harm the host, and is relatively difficult to spot (aside from the odor) as it exposes only its rather bizarre-looking dark red flower 5-8 cm above the ground.This member of the Hydnoraceae family was described by Carl Peter Thunberg in 1775, and in the theme of weird tropical plants. To attract pollinators such as carrion beetles, it emits the unpleasant rotting-flesh odour. As the plant is often hidden within the host bush, it is quite difficult to find, but is betrayed by its smell. Unperturbed, jackal and baboon eat the fruit that develops from the flowers, as do the Khoi-San people, from which it derives its local name: Bushman’s salad.

3. Pitcher Plant

Cobra lilies (Darlingtonia californica) use window-like aeriolae to lure insects into their hollow leaves.
The Pitcher Plant is a carnivorous plant, a meat eater. Insects are attracted to the cavity formed by the cupped leaf, often by visual lures such as pigments and nectar bribes. The sides of the pitcher are slippery and may be grooved in such a way so as to ensure that the insects cannot climb out. The small bodies of liquid contained within the pitcher traps drown the insect, and the body of it is gradually dissolved. This may occur by bacterial action (the bacteria being washed into the pitcher by rainfall) or by enzymes secreted by the plant itself. Furthermore, some pitcher plants contain mutualistic insect larvae, which feed on trapped prey, and whose excreta the plant absorbs. However particular type eats, the prey are converted into a solution of amino acids, peptides, phosphates, ammonium and urea, from which the plant obtains its mineral nutrition (particularly nitrogen and phosphorus). Like all carnivorous plants, they occur in locations where the soil is too poor in minerals and/or too acidic for most plants to be able to grow.

2. Venus Fly Trap

Like the pitcher plant, the Venus Fly Trap is carnivorous, but grabs its food rather than waiting for it, making it an aggressive plant versus its more passive carnivorous friend. The plant is unique in that it is one of a very small group of plants that are capable of rapid movement. Botanists still do not fully understand how the plant functions, both in its rapid reaction time and how its leaves move quickly from a resting convex shape (bent outwards) to a concave shape (trapping), making it one of the true wonders of nature and one of the truly unusual and remarkable species of the plant world. Although it has been successfully transplanted and grown in many locales around the world, it is found natively only in North and South Carolina in the United States, specifically within a 60 mile radius of Wilmington, North Carolina. Currently, there are estimated to be more than 3-6 million plants in cultivation compared to only 35,800 plants remaining in nature, however this data is over 15 years old and undoubtedly, underestimates the current situation. Several prominent plant conservationists suggest the plant be labelled as Vulnerable.

1. Baobob tree

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