I’ve never been a big fan of Halloween outside of the free candy I scored trick-or-treating as a kid. I’ve left the horror genre of moves relatively unseen. I guess I’m just not into anything scary and that extends into plant life as well. You may be wondering what plants could possibly be scary. Believe me, there are plenty out there. Here are the top 10 scary plants for Halloween or, in my case, the top 10 plants to avoid!
White baneberry (Actaea pachypoda): Also known as doll’s-eyes, this plant, which grows two feet (61 cm.) tall, starts out innocent enough with clusters of white flowers. But it’s from these white flowers that something sinister emerges, namely eyeballs…a lot of eyeballs. These “eyeballs,” or round, white berries, are tipped with a single black dot and connected to a blood-red stalk. The berries are poisonous to humans. If you hail from the Midwest or the Northeast and you feel like somebody is watching you, it could very well by the baneberry doll’s eye plant.
Bleeding tooth fungus (Hydellum peckii): Bleeding tooth fungus, when young and moist, secretes a thick red liquid (which resembles blood) through the pores of its semi-round white or pinkish-red cap. This nightmarish looking plant, which lives among the conifers in the Pacific Northwest, is also referred to as “strawberries and cream,” for it bears a strong resemblance to the dessert, which is now on my forbidden food list.
Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula): I would be remiss if I didn’t include the Venus flytrap, which had a starring role in the Rick Moranis flick “Little Shop of Horrors.” Unlike the plant in the movie though, the real-life version of only dines on insects. When the flytrap needs to feed, it opens its leaves very wide and secretes a nectar along the rim. Insects are lured into thinking they are visiting a sweet flower. If, when feasting on the nectar, the insect touches and triggers a sensor hair twice within 20 seconds, the leaves of the plant clamp shut and the insect is trapped.
Devil’s claw or ram’s horn (Proboscidea louisianica): This low-growing Southwestern native has creamy-white to pink orchid-like flowers that are spotted with purple. This plant produces large, hornlike fruit (which is why it’s also commonly referred to as “unicorn plant”). Fruit left on the devil’s claw plant will eventually transform into woody seed pods covered in prickly spines, which split open revealing a pair of long curved claws that look like pincers will try to ensnare you.
White ghosts or Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora): Aptly named for its waxy white, translucent appearance, the 4- to 8-inch (10-20 cm.) tall Indian pipe will spook you in most temperate regions of the United States. This parasitic plant, which lives in the understory of a forest, does not contain chlorophyll. It acquires its energy via myccorhizal fungi that sap nutrients and carbohydrates from tree roots.
Cobra lily plant (Darlingtonia californica): This isn’t a lily at all but a carnivorous pitcher plant, which occupies boggy habitats in Northern California and Oregon. It resembles sinister serpentines with slithering tongues, hence its name of cobra lily.
Bat face cuphea plant (Cuphea llavea): This plant has creepy blooms that look like purple hairy bat faces with red petal ears, but it does have a redeeming quality – its colorful nectar-laden flowers attract hummingbirds and butterflies. If the looks of bat face cuphea doesn’t drive you batty, you can grow it as a perennial in USDA zones 10 or above, or as an annual in cooler climates.
Black bat flower (Tacca chantrieri): After #7, I just thought I’d throw this one in here to really drive everyone bat crazy! Envision a 12-inch (30 cm.) wide black flower that looks like a bat face with whiskers up to 28 inches (71 cm.) long on a long stem above a base of broad shiny leaves. And there you have it…black bat flower. You can thank me later.
Corpse flower (Amorphophallus titanum): This plant commands a large presence in both stature (it reaches heights up to 10 feet and can weigh up to a few hundred pounds or more) and in smell. Corpse flower takes up to 10 years to bloom, and only lasts 24-36 hours when it does. Thank goodness, though. Take one whiff of this plant in bloom and you will be scared away. In order to attract pollinators, it literally gives off a pungent smell reminiscent of rotting flesh. If this doesn’t deter you, your best bet of interacting (or gagging) with it is in a botanical garden.
Brain cactus (Mammillaria elongata ‘Cristata’): A succulent with twisty sinewy growth that looks like brains, the brain cactus is a Hannibal Lector worthy addition to our list, although I don’t think he’d find this one as tasty.