"Strange flowers"

I have a fascination for weird and wonderful blooms!
Sunday, 03 April 2011     

Arisarum vulgare

The blooming last week of a plant given to me by a friend when I was collecting 'black-flowered' plants made me think of some of the rather strange flowers I have growing in my garden. This one is (I think) Arisarum vulgare (or a subspecies of it) and has weird blackish-purple stripe hooded spathes on a plant just 15 cm tall. These inflorescences are compelling: reminding me of either large leeches or tiny cobras lurking amidst the spotted, heart-shaped leaves. Arisarum belong to the Araceae (or aroid) family of plants (which includes Anthurium, Alocasia, Colocasia, Spathiphyllum, Syngonium and Zantedeschia) that have characteristically unusual spathe flowers. They are not beautiful in the conventional sense of a rose or a lily, but they offer unusual shapes and an element of surreal intrigue to the garden when they flower - as well as being conversation pieces when showing people round! My current garden, which is sub-tropical in nature, lends itself to including these odder type of blooms, which would have been completely out of place in my erstwhile cottage garden.

I was recently given a plant of Amorphophallus (possibly A. konjac): another member of the aroid family and a diminutive relative of the giant titan arum from Indonesia (Amorphophallus titanium), which drew huge crowds to the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney when it opened its enormous deep purple spathes (1.5 m long) a few years ago, so I look forward to growing my one and observing its flowers. Another member of the aroid type is the genus Arum, and in early spring I have Arum palaestinum (ht 45 cm, pictured above) in bloom - another plant given to me by a friend for my 'black' collection. This one has large velvety purple-black spathes - quite striking when in bloom. I have some other 'black' plants waiting in the wings to add to the border, including the eerie bat plant (Tacca integrifolia, ht 60 cm), which really does look like a bat.

Another rather bizarre flower out at the moment is that of the snail creeper (Vigna caracalla), which has fragrant, corkscrew-like flowers coloured pink, purple and cream. One can only wonder at what evolutionary process led to such a floral form. It grows quickly from seed as a light, twining vine and tends to die back during winter, to re-sprout in spring. It is related to the edible bean, as can be seen in its palmate foliage. It comes from tropical South America, so is frost tender. I have yet to plant mine out but even growing in a pot it has sent out tendrils to cover the roof of our chook-pen!

I have always thought that the bird of paradise plant (Strelitzia reginae, ht 1.8 m) has remarkable flowers, which really do resemble exotic birds. A big clump of it grew in my parents' Blue Mountains garden and the flowering stems were often used in vases indoors. I have recently planted one in my own garden and it has flowered for the first time. I planted it in a semi-shaded place nearby a mass of Clivia, as I think I once read that these two plants grow naturally together in the wild in South Africa, so I am hoping they might flower together in late winter this year. Strelitzia has a very long period of bloom, from autumn until spring, making it good value in the garden.

Bromeliads often have quite wacky inflorescences and this time of year sees a number of them come into bloom. In my cottage garden days, my friends and I used to recoil in horror from these oddities, but now I enjoy the varying forms and colours that these plants provide. Bilbergia vittata (pictured), one of my favourites, flowers several times a year, and is out at the moment, with large pendulous spikes of pink and blue claws held within a large pink bract. Bright scarlet Bilbergia pyramidalis is also in bloom, with shaggy-headed flowers that always make me think of teenage boys with gelled-up hair. Other bromeliads have flowers that look more like beads, often brilliantly coloured. There are so many different sorts of bromeliads, with a variety of leaves and flowers, that a mass of them grown together in a difficult shady spot under a tree can provide a most attractive low-maintenance garden area.

Mid-late summer saw the strange flowers of Gloriosa superba in my garden - reminding me of insects that had drifted in from another world, with their upturned, brilliantly coloured petals. And the recent flowers of Lycoris bulbs were another example of an outlandish bloom in my garden, with their elongated stamens like enormous whiskers. In late winter, the enormous red paintbrushes of Scadoxus puniceus (pictured above) will appear from nowhere to fascinate me once more.

I look forward to discovering more strange flowers as my journey into gardening continues!

 Reader Comments

1/6  Rae - 2119 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 04 April 2011

Strelitzia is my favourite flower. At our last house my mother in law bought me 3 tiny seedlings. After 5 years they were still limping along. I am unsure if it was the position or if they just take a long time to grow. What size was yours when you planted it Deirdre?

Mine was a plant from a nursery in a 20 cm pot but I must say it hasn't grown a huge amount yet - I think they do take a while to get going into a good size. It has probably been in for three years now and this is the first time it has bloomed. Deirdre

2/6  Glennis - 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 04 April 2011

I have the Snail Creeper climbing through my climbing rose Carrabella and it flowers from Spring until the begining of Winter and has quite a distinctive perfume.

Thanks Glennis. Mine is fairly new and I wasn't quite sure of its full flowering period. Yours sounds very pretty growing through the rose! Deirdre

3/6  Jill - 3941 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Monday, 04 April 2011

Thank you for the glimpses of rare plants, most unknown to me, with the exception of the snail creeper. Fascinating.

Thanks, Jill>

4/6  Neil - 3149 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Monday, 04 April 2011

Arisarum vulgare has become a nuisance in our garden. It is impossible to get rid of due to the very brittle tubers and has colonized all over the garden-so readers beware!

Thanks for that warning, Neil. I haven't had mine for long enough to experience the problem but it is probably wise to grow them in a pot. Deirdre

5/6  Georgina - 2076 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 04 April 2011

Dear Deidre, Another wonderful insight into the weird and quirky plants we can grow in our gardens. Do you think the Bat Plant will like Sydney? I saw white and black ones in the Roma Street Gardens in Brisbane a few years ago. Fabulous! Regards Georgina

I think it should grow OK in warm suburbs. It may not do so well in areas with very cold winters. I got my plant from the Friends of the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney Nursery. Deirdre

6/6  Malle - 2570 (Zone:9 - Cool Temperate) Tuesday, 05 April 2011

The strangest flower i have ever seen is the Rafflesia in Borneo which is about half a metre is diameter and bright red. It has no leaves as it is a parasitic vine. I don't think it can be cultivated as I did not see it in any botanic gardens. I must plant a Strelitzia!

I have always wanted to see a Rafflesia! But I have heard they smell of rotting meat so not sure if I would like one in my own garden! Deirdre

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