Halloween at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden
In honor of Halloween, here’s a virtual tour of some of Fairchild’s spooky plants that are hauntingly appropriate for October.
Solanum pyracanthos (Solanaceae)
What’s Halloween without some orange spikes? Native to Madagascar, this plant likes to grow in warm, humid, tropic climates. The plant family Solanaceae, known as the nightshade family, contains many of the vegetables that we eat (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant). However, ‘Deadly Nightshade’ was believed to be the devil’s favorite plant and witches and sorcerers were said to use many species in their brews and potions.
Datura sp. (Solanaceae)
This plant is extremely poisonous, especially the seeds and flowers which in the 1990s caused a lot of adolescent deaths in the United States. It causes delerium and is a common ingredient in zombie potions .
Brassia sp. (Orchidaceae)
This orchid has a very specific method for pollination—entomophily. It mimics spiders, the prey of female spider-hunting wasps. As the wasp attempts to sting the petal, thinking it’s about to capture its spider prey, the pollen sticks to the wasp’s head. When it falls for the same trick again, the next flower is pollinated.
Bulbophyllum medusae (Orchidaceae)
The flower’s thread-like sepals give the appearance of Medusa, the Greek monstrous woman with snakes in place of hair.
Dendrophylax lindenii (Orchidaceae)
The mysterious leafless orchid has a beautiful white flower with a long nectar spur was always thought to be pollinated by the giant sphinx moth with its long tongue. A recent National Geographic article reveals otherwise.
Stapelia sp. (Apocynaceae)
When this flower blooms it wafts the scent of rotting flesh all around attracting flies that are so deceived by the smell that they lay their eggs on the petals.
‘giant corpse flower’
Amorphophallus titanum (Araceae)
This species is known for having the largest unbranched inflorescence in the world. Similar to Stapelia, when it blooms this famous spadix flower, surrounded by a spathe, emits the odor of something dead.
Tacca chantrieri (Dioscoraceae)
These unusual flowers have bat-shaped black bracts with long thread-like bracteoles (modified leaves).
‘ferocious blue cycad’
Encephalartos horridus (Zamiaceae)
This is one of the most ominous cycads, a group of cone-baring gymnosperms. Though most common names of plants are pretty self-explanatory, Latin names usually are not. The specific epithet—horridus, is Latin for “bristly”, referring to the spiny leaves, which might make you bleed if you brush up too close.
Nepenthes bicalcarata (Nepenthaceae)
This pitcher plant is found only in Borneo. The modified leaves shaped like pitchers trap insects, which provide nutrients the plant doesn’t receive from its nutrient-lacking habitat. The purpose of its vampire fangs on the underside of the hood has been a source of great debate amongst botanists.
Oroxylum indicum (Bignoniaceae)
Also called the broken bones tree, when the leaf stalks fall off the plant and dry up they can look like a pile of bones. This plant is native to the forests of the Indian subcontinent.
‘poison rope plant’
Strophanthus sp. (Apocynaceae)
Sometimes called ‘twisted flower’ for the long threadlike petal tips, which look like dripping blood. Compounds from this plant are used medicinally to treat heart failure but in high amounts can be used as an arrow poison.
Zombia antillarum (Arecaceae)
This fan palm is only found on the island of Hispaniola. When ingested, the oil from the seeds can stimulate the five senses and is thought to awaken a zombie back to life. Voudou is practiced in Haiti, a religion that blends African religions and Christian saints. The spikes on the stems are used as voudou doll needles. You will often find the leaves of this palm used as thatch rooftops, because they are thought to ward off evil spirits.
This tour has been curated with the help of some of the botanists of FTBG.
Dr. Jason Downing, Orchid Biologist
Dr. Chad Husby, Botanical Horticulturalist
Dr. Hong Liu, Research Ecologist
Yisu Santamaria, Plant Records Manager