Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
September, 2006
Regional Report

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The Eucalyptus megacornuta is one of my favorite weird plants. (Photo courtesy of Suzie Rose)

Weird and Wonderful Plants

My tastes tend toward the bizarre, much to my poor mother's chagrin. I love odd plants, such as Venus fly traps, mosses and lichens, and anything that is a little on the weird side. A rabbit foot fern (Polypodium aureum) with its hairy, creeping rhizomes is just my cup of tea, as is the pencil plant (Rhipsalis baccifera), with its long, leafless stems that branch and then branch again in an endless cascade. I adore my nepenthe and keep it safe, under glass, in my office. It's warm inside a large apothecary jar that's heated from below with a reptile heater. On the occasional hot day, I will leave the lid of the jar open long enough for the plant to invite some unsuspecting fly or moth in for dinner.

Even the weather loaches in my aquarium are strange by most peoples standards. Long and eel-like, their whiskered faces, beady little eyes, and agile antics delight me.

I love mushrooms and weeds and things that have to fight for a living. I suppose it's the fact that these creatures and plants have had to adapt to adverse elements within their environment to survive. Why do the branches of Harry Lauder's Walking Stick (Corylus avellana) and corkscrew rushes (Juncus effusus) grow in those amazing curves and twists? I wonder about the Snow-in-Summer tree (Melaleuca linariifolia) with its beautiful papery bark that feels like velvet when new, then peels away to reveal deep ravines in the trunk. What purpose does that peeling bark serve?

There is a eucalyptus that grows along the back side of my marina called E. megacornuta. The tree itself is short and round, growing to about 20 feet. But what I love are the seedpods on this hardy tree. They are round balls with strange, 2-inch-long curved fingers. The finger casings dry and drop off onto the ground below when the fuzzy flowers swell inside. I love to put the finger casings over the tips of my own digits so that I look like a Balinese dancer ... well at least I can pretend.

After the fuzzy flower petals are finished, they drop off to reveal a hard, round green ball the size of a tennis ball covered with spiky eyes. Honestly, every step of the process is like watching an alien invasion. I used these same seedpods to represent undersea creatures in a display I created for last years Bouquet's to Art exhibit at the Palace of Legion of Honor. I must not be the only person interested in weird and wonderful plants because there is a book dedicated to the subject: Bizarre Plants: Magical, Monstrous, Mythical, by William A. Emboden.

The strangest plant-like thing I have ever seen was a slime mold (Myomycota) that grew in one of my flower beds at Sunset Magazine. The first morning it looked like someone had dropped yellow pudding on the ground. The next day, it was the size of an extra large pizza, only puffy and pale yellow. The third day it had collapsed and become a stinking brown pile. I was enchanted nonetheless.

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