Weird Plants

Horticulture and the Science of Plants
  Horticulture Youth Adventure Program

David Wm. Reed, Instructor

Department of Horticultural Sciences
Texas A&M University

In order for plants to survive in nature they must adapt to their environment.  Because of this some plants have developed very unusual types of growth, shapes and sizes.  We are going to take a tour of the world by looking at examples of plants from all over the world, especially plants that may seem weird.  We will look at examples of plants that are carnivorous (meat eaters!), plants that can move, plants that appear to rise from the dead, plants that smell like perfume and or rotting meat, a plants that look like rocks.  For each of these weird plants we will talk about how these unique adaptations allow the plants to survive extreme environments, attract pollinating insects and animals, or protect themselves.

See that following pages for pictures of some of the weird plants.

1) To learn how plants have developed many unusual shapes and sizes.
2) To learn about carnivorous plants.
3) To learn about  plants that move.
4) To learn about plants that appear to rise from the dead.
5) To learn about plants that smell good or stink.
6) To learn about plants that look like rocks.
7) To learn why plants do all these things to allow them to better survive.

example of plants

The class will observe many unusual plants.

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Carnivorous Plants
They are not really meat eaters, rather they are insect eaters. 
They really do not eat the prey.  Rather they trap the prey, then it dies and rots.  The nutrients and amino acids from the rotting insect are absorbed by the leaf.  Most of these plants live in very poor soil, so this is how they get the nutrients they need to grow.
Spring Close Trap on Prey
When an insect enters the trap and touches the trigger hairs, the trap closes to trap the prey. 
Veunus fly trap

Venus Fly  Trap
(Dionaea muscipula)

Venus Fly trap
Venus Fly Trap

Venus fly trap trigger

Triggers on Venus fly trap.  The triggers have to be touched two times to trigger the trap to close.
Trap Prey in a Funnel
Insect crawls down the tube or funnel shaped leaf.  The cannot crawl out because the sides of the leaf are too slippery or they have downward pointing hairs that keep them from crawling back up.
Pitcher plant
Pitcher Plant
(Sarracenea flava)

Pitcher plant
Purple Pitcher Plant
(Sarracenia purpurea)

Darlingtonia Californica
(Darlingtonia Californica)

Nepenthes alata
(Nepenthes alata)

Trap Prey with Sticky Fly Paper
The leaves are covered with glandular hairs that secrete a sticky fluid.  When an insect contact the leaf, it gets stuck in the sticky fluid.
Sun dew  Sun dew (Drosera)

Plants That Rise From the Dead
Resurrection Fern
(Selaginella lepidophylla)

The resurrection fern live in very dry climates.  When there is not enough rain, it dries up into a shriveled up ball.  It can remain this way for years.  When it finally rains, the dry leaves absorb the water and unroll.  Once it is hydrated, the plant turns green and grows.  As long as you keep it watered, it will grow into a nice little plant.  If you stop watering it, it will dry and form a ball.  So it never really "rises from the dead".  It is always alive, even when it is dried out (kind of like dry seeds).

Plants That Can Strangle
stangler fig
Strangler Fig

Ficus seeds will germinate in the branches of a tree.  It will them make roots (adventitious roots, that grow down the trunk.  Once the roots reach the ground, they grow into the soil.  The roots get larger in diameter each year and will eventually completely surround the tree.  Thus, the fig eventually strangles the tree.  It could do the same to you - if you stayed in one place and did not move for a couple of decades!

Plants That Stink
The flowers stink like rotting meat or a rotting animal.  Why?  To attract flowers to pollinate the flower.
corpse lily
Corpse Lily
(Amorphophallus titanum)

The corpse lily is one of the largest flowers in the world.  And it stinks like a rotting animal, hence the name corpse lily.

Stapelia Gigantea
(Stapelia gigantea)

The stapelia plant makes a flower that smells like rotting meat.

Plants Look Like Rocks
Some plants or their seeds look like small rocks or pebbles.
Lithops living rocks
Living  Rocks

Living rocks are small succulent plants that live in the desert.  You may never notice them because they grow flat with the ground and look exactly like a rock.  Why?  Probably to avoid insects and rodents seeing them and eating them for their water.
bluebonnet seeds
Texas Bluebonnet Seeds
(Lupinus texensis)

Bluebonnet seeds look like little pebbles.  Why?  So birds will eat them thinking they are the pebbles they need to digest their foods.  But the seeds a very hard and some are not digested.  Therefore, the birds spread the seed in their droppings.

Plants That Grow In Air
These are epiphytes that grow up in the air on something else.  The mostly grow on the barks of trees.  Their roots attach to the bark.  They roots catch debris they falls from the trees and that wash down the trunks when it rains.  They get all their nutrients from the nutrients that wash down the trunks and from the debris as it decomposes.
ball moss
Ball Moss
(Tillandsia recurvata)

This is a native Texas bromeliad.  It is common in south central Texas.  I have seen it growing on power lines in the Goliad  area.
Epiphytic Bromeliad
Many tropical bromeliads are epiphytes. They grow on the trunks of trees.

tank bromeliad
Epiphytic Tank Bromeliad
  Some form tanks that collect water.
Epiphytic Orchid

Many tropical and semi-tropical orchids are epiphytes.  They grow on the trunks of trees.

Plants That Move
mimosa punica
Touch-Me-Not or Sensitive Plant
(Mimosa punica)

The Touch-Me-Not plant will fold up its leaflets and droop its leaves when it is touched and at night.  Why?  It may close them at night to conserve water.  It may close them when touched so they are not as visible to be eaten by grazing animals.