These aren’t flowers you’d give to your mother. Some smell like feces or rotting corpses, some are incredibly ugly, some are de*dly while others are just strange. These 7 extreme flowers include the world’s largest, smallest, stinkiest and most dangerous. Stunning examples of the incredibly unexpected wonders that nature can serve up, the world’s most bizarre blooms entice, amaze and disgust.
World’s Largest Flower, Rafflesia arnoldii
Like a mutant toadstool crossed with man-eating flowers from another planet, Rafflesia arnoldii is red with white speckles and can reach up to three feet in diameter. Oh yeah, and it smells like a de*d body. From the time this bizarre bloom forms a bud, exposing the pink undersides of its petals, it is disturbingly flesh-like. Then it opens to reveal itself in all of its glory, emitting an odor of decomposition to attract the flies that will pollinate it and help it spread.
Rafflesia arnoldii is found only in the rainforests of Benkulu, Sumatra Island, Indonesia and Malaysia. It’s the largest single flower on earth, and grows as a parasite on a particular species of vine, wrapping thread-like strands of tissue around its host in order to bleed it of water and nutrients.
The flower is both intensely fascinating and utterly repulsive – especially once you get close enough to notice just how mammalian it really looks, with pimply flesh covered in little hairs and pollen-producing parts that look like pustules.
Prehistoric Desert Flower, Welwitschia mirabilis
It’s hideous, looking like something that died out to sea and washed up on the beach. It’s bizarre. It’s also extremely rare and incredibly unique. The Weltwitschia mirabilis is a flower – that’s right, a flower – found only in the Namib desert within Namibia and Angola. In fact, it’s the latter country’s national flower. Considered a living fossil, weltwitschia is thought to be a holdover from the Jurassic period, when such plants – called gymnosperms – dominated the landscape. Over millennia, similar plants disappeared, but welwitschia managed to survive despite drastic changes to the climate of its environment.
This plant may look like a messy pile of leaves, but it actually only has two, which continue growing throughout the life of the plant, reaching lengths of up to 12 feet. These leaves tend to become ragged and frayed over time, split by the wind and sand to resemble a larger quantity of leaves.
Fleshy Fecal-Scented Parasitic Flower, Hydnora africana
At first, the Hydnora africana looks like a stone, blending in on the desert floor. But then it rises and opens its terrifying maw and you know you’ve come upon something outrageously unusual. What you see of the parasite Hydnora is just the flower of the plant, most of which is hidden underground, interweaving itself among the roots of its host plant, the succulent Euphorbia. The bloom opens in three sections called sepals, revealing a cavity that stinks like feces, luring in dung beetles. This cavity becomes a temporary trap, keeping the beetles inside long enough to enable pollination. The inside of the cavity is pinkish-orange, fleshy and covered in tiny downward-pointing hairs that prevent the beetles from climbing out. Eventually, the bloom opens enough so that the beetles can escape.
World’s Smallest Flower, Wolffia angusta
Nope, that’s not algae, nor is it any ordinary aquatic plant. Wolffia, commonly referred to as watermeal and misidentified as duckweed, is officially the world’s smallest flower, with each bloom weighing about as much as two grains of sand. It takes about 5,000 of these teeny-tiny flowers to fill a thimble, and they’re amazingly small when seen against the grooves in a human fingerprint. Woffia sometimes grow in colonies that form a dense-looking mat on sheltered waters. The only way to identify the exact species of a wolffia flower is to view it under a microscope.
Each wolffia flower has a single pistil and stamen and produces the world’s smallest fruit, called a utricle. It has no leaves, stem or roots, floating freely in quiet freshwater lakes and marshes. Woffia is highly nutritious, serving as food for fish and waterfowl in nature and occasionally cultivated for use as livestock feed or even human cuisine. It’s eaten as a vegetable in Burma, Laos and Thailand.
Black Bat Flower, Tacca chantrieri
Stunningly beautiful, magnificently strange, the black bat flower – Tacca chantrieri – is definitely one-of-a-kind. Not only does it produce black blooms, which is highly unusual in itself, but those blooms are decidedly animalistic with bat-like petal ‘wings’ as well as long ‘whiskers’ that trail up to a foot long. Also known as the devil’s flower, presumably because of its color and strange appearance, the black bat flower also produces odd-shaped blooms in shades of green and purple. This tropical flower can be found in Africa, Madagascar and northeast South America.
World’s De*dliest Flower, Belladonna
There’s a reason that Atropa belladonna is commonly called ‘de*dly nightshade’. While it may not hold the official title of de*dliest flower in the world (there’s no consensus on that topic), and other flowers like oleander are similarly dangerous, belladonna is notable not only for its ability to k*ll but for its history and unusual appearance. This perennial herbaceous plant, native to Europe, North Africa and Western Asia, has been used for centuries as a medicine, cosmetic, poison and hallucinogen. Both the foliage and the very juicy and tempting-looking dark purple berries of this plant are highly toxic. The scientific name ‘atropa’ is thought to be derived from that of the Greek goddess Atropos, one of the three fates, who was responsible for determining a man’s de*th. ‘Belladonna’ is Italian for ‘beautiful woman’.
Ingest any part of the de*dly nightshade and you’ll be swallowing atropine, hyoscine and hyoscyamine, substances that cause a series of worsening symptoms from dilated pupils to slurred speech to hallucinations, delirium, convulsions and possibly de*th. The pupil-dilating part was once considered desirable, hence the name ‘belladonna’, though prolonged usage was known to cause blindness. In Ancient Rome it was used as a murder weapon.
The Corpse Flower, Amorphophallus Titanum
It’s not enough that the titan arum stands taller than an adult male human, or that its stamen is so crazily large and weird-looking that it has earned the flower the scientific name Amorphophallus titanum (essentially, ‘giant misshapen penis’.) No. This insane flower – which also happens to be incredibly beautiful – also has to smell like the rotting corpse of a mammal left too long in the sun. Say hello to what may just be the single weirdest flower in the world.
The titan arum, which grows in the rainforests of Sumatra, is often cultivated in botanical gardens for guests to gawk and gag over. The spadix of the flower, which is the tallest part, is covered in pollen at the top and dotted with bright red-orange carpels, or ovule-producing parts, at the bottom. It has a single petal called a spathe that is pale green and white on the outside and deep burgundy-purple on the inside. Like many other species, the flower emits the scent of rotting meat to attract pollinators.
The tallest bloom in cultivation, grown at the zoological garden Wilhelmina in Stuttgart, Germany, reached 9 feet 6 inches in height.