Is this ghost orchid creepy?
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Can plants be creepy? Okay, there’s the horror film version of giant, man-eating flowers, like in Little Shop of Horrors. But what about in real life?

I got a newsletter from Garden Design magazine the other day, inviting me to view a slideshow of “creepy, Halloween-ready plants” on their website, so of course I had to click through and see what was there.

The verdict? Not so creepy.

The first slide in the series was actually a beautiful tropical flower. The caption tried hard to compare the shape of the blossom to bats, but I wasn’t seeing it. Here’s what it says (and you can click on the link to take a look for yourself):

If you’re fond of these winged nocturnal creatures, you’ll love the bat plant (Tacca chantrieri), a tropical plant from Southeast Asia with a sinister inflorescence and black fruits that hang in clusters like roosting bats.

For the most part, the other slides also depict plants that aren’t all that scary or unusual, although they do have Halloween-ready names: besides the bat plant, there’s the tarantula cactus… and the ghost orchid, that elusive swamp flower made famous by author extraordinaire Susan Orlean in The Orchid Thiefand the entire Amorphophalls genus, which sports common names like “voodoo lily” and “corpse flower.”

There was, however, one plant that I have to agree was downright startling in appearance — it has long, bright orange spikes lining its leaves! This is Solanum pyracanthum, also known as “devil’s thorn” or the “porcupine tomato.” I had never seen nor heard of this plant before, but a quick Internet search turned up plenty of photos:


Photo: jimross77, via

You’ll note that the flowers are typical of the Solanum genus, which includes such familiar plants as tomatoes and eggplant.
(Photo: jimross77, via

If you want to grow this spiky plant in time for next Halloween, you can order a packet of 12 seeds for $2.95 from Top Tropicals. It’s reportedly only hardy in zone 9 and higher, but if you have a greenhouse or sunroom, you could grow it in a pot for an interesting conversation piece — just watch out for the thorns.

If you’re generally fascinated with strange, uncommon plants and flowers, you can buy the book Bizarre Botanicals: How to Grow String-of-Hearts, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Panda Ginger, and Other Weird and Wonderful Plants, by Larry Mellichamp and Paula Gross (Timber Press, 2010).



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