Put away the jack-o-lantern carving and the spooktacular costume planning for a second because it is time for a very special Top Ten. This countdown is filled with plants that put the orange, black, freaky and frightening back into Halloween.
Deadly Nightshade (Atropa belladonna)
Fact: This plant is a member of the same family as tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants and peppers. This may not seem like a scary family of plants but the Deadly Nightshade also has some very poisonous relatives like Herbane, Jimsonweed and European Mandrake.
How it reminds us of Halloween: In the Middle Ages, Deadly Nightshade was believed to be the devil’s favourite plant. Witches and Sorcerers would use the plant’s juices in many of their ointments and brews. Even though this plant has been used in medicine be sure to stay away, it is so toxic that even touching it can poison you!
Claire Kowalchik, William H. Hylton and Anna Carr Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press, Inc., 1987: 158-159
Devil’s Claw (Proboscidea louisianica)
Fact: This plant shares its scientific name with an unlikely species– proboscidea is also an order of elephants! Proboscidea comes from the word proboscis, which means trunk or horn.
How it reminds us of Halloween: As this plant matures, its seed pods dry out and turn grey or brown. Eventually the pods split down the middle and begin to look like sharp hooks (or horns). Imagine having one of those stuck to you. Scary! Plus, it probably doesn’t help that it’s named after the devil…
Larry Mellichamp and Paula Gross, Bizarre Botanicals. Portland, OR: Timber Press, Inc., 2010: 184-185
Fact: Some wolfsbane species are used in traditional medicines, while others are extremely toxic and can be deadly.
How it reminds us of Halloween: Wolfsbane has long been associated with werewolves. In most stories, wolfsbane has been known to keep werewolves away. However, if you ask the writer of Harry Potter, it also prevents a person from turning into a werewolf during a full moon.
Purple Devil (Solanum atropurpureum)
Fact: This relative of the Deadly Nightshade makes a very good barrier hedge. It’s not a big surprise that if you plant a few purple devils around your yard, unwanted visitors will stay away!
How it reminds us of Halloween: What’s Halloween without a few spikes? The sight of the Purple Devil’s deadly spikes would certainly make us jump in the night.
Scott D. Appell Brooklyn Botanic Garden All-Region Guides: Annuals for Every Garden. Brooklyn, NY: Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Inc., 2003: Page 35
Chinese Lanterns (Physalis alkekengi)
Fact: Chinese Lanterns produce edible berries, which have been used in medicine to reduce fevers.
How it reminds us of Halloween: The bright orange berries of the Chinese Lanterns are protected by an orange covering that looks a little like a pumpkin. Once this cover begins to waste away it leaves behind a skeleton that looks like a spooky cage trapping the berry.
Cockscomb (Celosia cristata)
Fact: Although all members of the Celosia genus have fuzzy flowers, the waviness of the cockscomb’s flowers is pretty unique. It is caused by fasciation, which develops due to infections, certain insects or growing mutations. This isn’t just a cockscomb’s problem – any other plant can develop this way.
How it reminds us of Halloween: It may be just us, but this flowering plant looks a lot like a fuzzy brain, especially when the flower is yellow. This plant would make a perfect treat for Zombies. Yum! Brains!
Larry Mellichamp and Paula Gross, Bizarre Botanicals. Portland, OR: Timber Press, Inc., 2010: 172-173
H. Peter Loewer, Jefferson’s Garden. Mechanicburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2004: Page 63
Witch Hazel (Hamamelis)
Fact: Not only is this plant interesting because it blooms in the fall, it also has some pretty cool seed pods. When the seeds are ready, the pods pop and the seeds shoot outwards. In fact, this pop is so powerful that you can actually hear it!
How it reminds us of Halloween: Witch Hazel plants produce thin yellow petals that look wild and stringy. Take a look at its silhouette and you’ll know what we mean. Very creepy!
Doll’s eyes (Actaea pachypoda)
Fact: This plant is pretty toxic so most herbivores avoid them. However, birds appear to be immune. By carrying the berries, birds help spread the Doll’s eyes’ seeds to new places.
How it reminds us of Halloween: This plant is named after its white berries, which look like old-fashioned china doll eyes. Sure, they are berries, but we wouldn’t want to be walking alone in a forest filled with doll’s eyes on a scary night. Hundreds of little eyes watching you? Ah…no thank you!
Fact: Dracula orchids smell like mushrooms and look a little like them too (the “tongue”). This is done on purpose to trick fruit flies that pollinate mushrooms into pollinating them as well.
How it reminds us of Halloween: This flower looks like a vampire! When Spanish scientists first came across these orchids, they were reminded of dragons and bats. If you find yourself surrounded by Dracula Orchids, you better watch your step – you might get bitten!
Ghost Plant (Monotropa uniflora)
Fact: This plant has a symbiotic (both benefit) or parasitic (Ghost plant benefits at the other’s expense) relationship with mycorrhizal fungi. It can only exist where this fungi is present, which makes it very difficult to grow in gardens.
How it reminds us of Halloween: This plant’s name is very fitting. Not only are Ghost plants white but they also live in the dark. Unlike most plants, they don’t rely on light (photosynthesis) to grow. All that time in the dark is awfully ghostly.
EXTRA Octopus Stinkhorn (Clathrus archeri)
Yes, yes, yes, we know – this is a fungus and doesn’t belong on a plant list. But that’s why it’s a bonus.
Fact: According to some brave souls, the Octopus Stinkhorn is edible in its egg stage. However, it is not something we would recommend. Apparently, the taste and texture isn’t really appealing.
How it reminds us of Halloween: The octopus stinkhorn looks like something out of a horror tale. It “hatches” from eggs and grows four to eight tentacles. On top of that, it has a stinky gleba (flesh) that smells like decaying flesh…gross.
Have you stumbled across other spooky plants? Tell us about it in the comments section and let us know why this plant reminds you of Halloween.