Scary Plant Names for Halloween!

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Source: http://www.succesrama.com

Tonight is Halloween and everywhere, little ghosts and goblins will ring our doorbells in costumes designed to scare us half to death. But plants too sometimes have names that chill our blood. Here is a selection of plants with horrifying names that seem to have been specially designed for Halloween.

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)

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The immaculate white flower of the bloodroot belies its blood red sap. Source: laidbackgardener.blog

Let’s start with the bloodroot. It’s common in deciduous forests throughout eastern North America and makes an excellent perennial for woodland gardens. There’s nothing bloody about the immaculate white flower of the small plant, though. You have to dig it up and cut into its rhizome to see the flow of blood red sap that earned it its name. The root was used in traditional medicine to treat blood diseases and cancers and even today bloodroot salves are available online, but the extreme toxicity of the plant has banished it from mainstream medicine.

Ghost Plant (Monotropa uniflora)

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The absence of chlorophyll gives the ghost plant a spectral white color. Source: laidbackgardener.blog

The ghost plant, also called ghost pipe or Indian pipe, owes its phantasmal name to its unique cadaveric white coloring. It’s a parasitic perennial living on conifer roots and spends most of its life underground. Only the arching flower stem, bearing scales and a single bell-shaped flower, all of a ghostly white, rises from the ground. Many people mistake it for a mushroom, but the ghost plant is a true flowering plant, in fact, belonging to the rhododendron family (Ericaceae). A flowering plant of such pallor, and parasitic to boot, seems particularly ghoulish. It’s found in the forests of the Northern Hemisphere and is especially abundant in Eastern North America.

Monstera (Monstera deliciosa)

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The huge cut leaves of the monstera. Source: laidbackgardener.blog

As far as monsters go, this popular houseplant is rather a nice one. The name comes from its heart-shaped leaves of monstrous size, up to 3 feet (90 cm) in diameter, full of holes and slashes. To stay with the Halloween theme, you could say that they seem to have been carved out by Freddy Krueger! The holes in the leaves also give this plant a less gruesome name: Swiss cheese plant. Curiously, while monstera fruits are poisonous when immature, they are edible and, in fact, delicious when ripe, tasting, I’m told, like pineapple, hence its deliciosa epithet.

Dracula Orchid (Dracula vampira)

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It’s the black flower of the Dracula orchid that earned it its name. Source: Eric Hunt, Wikimedia Commons

This Ecuadorian orchid takes its name from its large, almost black, three-sepaled flowers that can be reminiscent of the cape of the mythical Count Dracula or perhaps, with a little imagination, a bat with three wings. It’s an epiphytic plant (one which grows on other plants) and you sometimes see it in orchid shows. Needless to say, with a name like Dracula vampira, it attracts a lot of attention!

Zombie Palm (Zombia antillarum)

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The sharp spines of the zombie palm are downright scary! Source: tropical.theferns

The zombie palm gets its name from its origin as well as its frightening appearance, since this small palm because it comes from Haiti, the country of origin of zombies. Its stem is so covered in piercing thorns that nobody but a zombie would dare to approach it.

Devil’s Claw (Proboscidea louisianica)

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You wouldn’t want to run into a devil’s claw seed capsule barefoot! Source: Steven Laymon, Office of Land Management and John D. Byrd, Mississippi State University, Bugwood.org

The plant is a pretty annual with pink flowers and is indeed sometimes sold in seed packets. There is absolutely nothing threatening about it at this stage. But the seed capsule that follows bloom is long and black with two very pointed “horns” at the end, like devilish claws. The capsule latches onto the legs of passing animals, dropping seeds as the animal scratches desperately in an attempt to remove it. And it would appear that a barefoot meeting with this ultra-thorny capsule is nothing to laugh about!

Death Apple (Hippomane mancinella)

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The fruit of the death apple could be mistaken for a little green apple … but don’t eat it! Source: laidbackgardener.blog

This tree, also called manchineel, is a common sight on the beaches of tropical America. It produces small green fruits that look like apples (in fact, the name manchineel derives from the Spanish manzanilla, or “little apple”), but are so toxic that they would kill anyone who dared eat one, thus earning it its macabre name. In fact, this plant is toxic in all its parts. Even sheltering under its branches during a rain storm can cause skin lesions from particles picked up by water dripping over the leaves!

Strangler Fig (Ficus spp.)

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This strangler fig tree is attacking a sculpture of Buddha in Ayutthaya, Thailand. Source: laidbackgardener.blog

There is not just one species of strangler fig, but dozens species of Ficus found throughout the Tropics that share the same ghoulish way of life. The seeds germinate on the branches of a tree of another species, then the roots of the strangler gradually wrap around the trunk of its host. Over time, it eventually suffocates (strangles) the other tree and then takes its place as a forest giant. The weeping fig (Ficus benjamina), a common houseplant often used as an indoor tree, is one of these strangler figs. So maybe taking a nap it its foot isn’t the wisest thing to do!

Bat Flower (Tacca chantrieri)

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The bat flower’s shape and color can indeed seem quite batlike. Source: laidbackgardener.blog

The huge black flowers of this houseplant are the stuff of nightmares. They can be up to 1 foot (30 cm) across and consist of two black “wings” with long, slender black whiskers that can exceed 2 feet (60 cm) in length. It’s often sold as a houseplant, but you’ll need really good humidity (i.e. greenhouse levels!) to keep it happy.

Corpse Flower (Amorphophallus titanum)

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When the corpse flower is fully open, you can smell it from afar! Source: Leif Jørgensen, Wikimedia Commons

This plant, which produces the world’s largest inflorescence, up to 10 feet (3 m) tall, grows from a huge underground tuber. Every year, it produces a single gigantic, deeply cut leaf, perfectly erect on a petiole measuring up to 20 feet (6 m) tall. It could easily be mistaken for a trunk and gives the leaf the appearance of a tree. Every decade or so, the plant produces a gigantic inflorescence that gives off an intense smell of decaying flesh, hence the name corpse flower. You’ll have guessed that it attracts, as a pollinator, carrion flies. The bloom lasts only three days, but often attracts crowds to the botanical gardens that grow it: everyone wants to see—and smell!—the horrendous monster!


If you do a bit of research, you’ll find lots of other plants with equally scary names: spider plant, bloody cranesbill, wolfsbane, ‘Bloody Butcher’ corn, devil tree and many more. Certainly enough to give Halloween a macabre touch of green!

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Black Flowers for a Goth Garden

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It seems particularly appropriate to write about black flowers at Halloween. Given the lugubrious nature of the fete, the most mournful of all flower colors, black, could certainly make a splash if you’re into turning your house into a haunted one. But you can actually have black flowers almost all year long if you know which ones to choose.

Most of us like our flowers bright: pinks, yellows, whites, lavenders, reds, etc. But not everyone. Some reactionary gardeners seem to prefer colors that get otherwise short shrift in the garden world … notably black. It’s not given to everyone to appreciate black flowers, but for those that do, they’re always a delight and they’re certainly original.

Of course, your love of black flowers may say something about you. Those who follow the Goth subculture and reject traditional societal values, for example, may be deep into black shades. The same can be said of some anarchists and artists. And if you’re in deep depression and want to stay there, black flowers may be just what the psychologist ordered. Also, growing counterculture black flowers could also be a way of finally interesting that rebellious grandchild in gardening!

Black Is Really Purple

Of course, it’s almost impossible to create a perfectly black flower. Most black flowers are actually a very dark shade of purple or red and will show up in those shades on bright, sunny days. However, many can look as dark as Hades on cloudy or overcast days or when contrasted with flowers in lighter shades. And some do darken as they age.

A Bouquet of Gloom

Here are a few black flowers whose gloom and doom color might suit more morbid readers:

Andean Silver-Leaf Sage
(Salvia discolor)

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Salvia discolor. Source: scott-zona, flickr

This is a large subtropical perennial with powdery gray stems and medium green leaves with a silvery underside. In late summer or early fall, it produces arching spikes of purple-black parrot’s beak flowers with silvery-green calyces that highlight the color. Only hardy to zone 9, it’s often grown as a tender perennial in colder climates: planted out in the summer and overwintered, after harsh pruning, indoors. Still, it needs a very long growing season, or the flower will be killed by frost before they open. Full sun and fairly dry conditions are best.

Black and Blue Sage
(Salvia guarantica ‘Black and Blue’)

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Salvia guarantica ‘Black and Blue’. Source: Proven Winners

This is another salvia with black flowers … except that it’s not really the flowers that are black, but rather the flower stem and calyces. It’s when the violet-blue flowers drop off that it becomes a “black flower.” The contrast between the bluish flower and the dark purple calyx is nevertheless quite attractive. It’s a lovely plant all round, starting to bloom early in the summer and continuing through the season, and a great hummingbird plant. It’s best treated as a tender perennial or annual where it isn’t hardy (zone 8 and above, zone 7 with protection). Salvia Bodacious ‘Rhythm and Blues’ is a newer, more compact variety. Full sun and well-drained soil.

Black Bat Flower
(Tacca chantrieri)

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Tacca chantrieri. Source: amazon.com

This tropical plant with leaves like a peace lily (Spathiphyllum) certainly does have impressive flowers! They’re composed of two dark “bat wings” (actually bracts) up to 1 foot (30 cm) across bearing nodding near-black flowers with long whiskers (also black in better cultivars) that hang down a good 2 feet (60 cm). Distinctly weird-looking! It’s often sold as a houseplant, but you’ll need really good humidity (i.e. greenhouse levels!) to keep it happy. Zone 11.

Black Bachelor’s Buttons
(Centaurea cyanus cultivars)

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Centaurea cyanus ‘Black Ball’. Source: mullerseeds.com

This is an heirloom variety of common bachelor’s buttons, dating back to 1942. The cultivars ‘Black Ball’ and ‘Black Magic’ are similar, if not identical. Bachelor’s buttons are fast-growing annuals that transplant poorly, so sow them where they are to grow, in full sun and any well-drained soil. It will self-sow where happy.

Black Bearded Iris
(Iris x germanica cultivars)

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Iris x germanica ‘Study in Black’. Source: bakker.com

There are more black bearded irises than I can count and they generally do look very black indeed. They’re hardy perennials and, if you can keep the iris borers off, bloom massively and stunningly just as spring is transitioning to summer. Consider ‘All Night Long’, ‘Before the Storm’, ‘Black is Black’, ‘Midnight Oil’, ‘Raven Girl’ and ‘Study in Black’ among others. Full sun or light shade in well-drained soil. Zone 3.

Black Calla
(Zantedeschia cultivars)

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Zantedsechia  ‘Odessa’. Source: easytogrowbulbs.com

There are actually several “black” callas, including  ‘Black Star’, ‘Edge of Night’ and ‘Odessa’. The extremely dark shade is all the most surprising in that callas (also called calla lilies, although they aren’t lily relatives) used to be renowned for their pure white flowers. But the big white blooms of yesteryear have largely been replaced by dwarf varieties with more narrowly tubular flowers in a wide range of colors, including pink, yellow, orange and dark purple … oops! I mean black! Grow callas as summer bulbs and bring them indoors in the fall in all but the warmest climates. Zone 8.

Black Columbine
(Aquilegia vulgaris and A. x hybrida cultivars)

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Aquilegai vulgaris ‘Black Barlow’. Source: http://www.longfield-gardens.com

There have been black (deep purple) columbines floating around forever in seed catalogues, usually with no name or just the words ‘Black’ or ‘Single Black’. ‘Black Barlow’ is a double one, but I must confess I dislike double columbines. They’re like a flower that tried to be a dahlia, but failed. Worse, they offer nothing to pollinating insects and hummingbirds, while single columbines are favorites with pollinators. Consider too the dark columbine (Aquilegia atrata), an easy-to-grow species with dark purple flowers, or A. viridiflora ‘Chocolate Soldier’, with very odd-looking, cup-shaped, purple brown flowers with a contrasting green calyx. All columbines are short-lived perennials that self-sow readily and thus keep hanging around years after you planted them. Plus they’re usually true to type unless there are other columbines in the neighorhood with which they can cross. They have their insect pests, but I suggest simply learning to ignore them. Perennial, zone 3.

Black Coral Pea
(Kennedia nigricans)

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Kennedia nigricans. Source: australianseed,com

I’ve seen this vigorous climber in tropical areas all over the world, although it’s originally from Australia. Apparently, it escapes from culture to become weed in mild, fairly arid climates where it climbs anything it can twist its greedy little wandering stems around. Often a machete is needed to hack your way through when it takes over brushy sites. Its parrot’s beak flowers with a yellow to ivory “tongue” are just about the blackest of any flower I have seen and they are borne quite abundantly spring through summer. Grow it from seed as a tender perennial or houseplant in the brightest light possible … and keep your machete handy! Zone 8 and above.

Black Dahlia
(Dahlia x pinnata cultivars)

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Dahlia x pinnata ‘Arabian Night’ . Source: jparkers.co.uk

There is a Black Dahlia novel that was turned into a Black Dahlia film, both based on a famous Hollywood murder case, but most so-called black dahlias, that is, flowers, are, to my eye at least, at best very deep red. Still, the very double ‘Arabian Night’ gets credit for being the blackest dahlia, although ‘Black Embers’, ‘Black Jack’, ‘Black Satin’ and ‘Karma Choc’, all double varieties, give it a run for the money.. I’d say ‘Black Orchid’, with single flowers bearing narrow twisted petals on, is just as dark and perhaps even darker. Plant dahlias of any color in the summer garden, then bring them indoors and store them dry in a cool, dry spot for the winter. That treatment would apply in all by the warmest climates. Zone 8.

Black Hellebore
(Helleborus nigra)

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H. x hybridus ‘Onyx Odessy’. Source: carolynsshadegardensdotcom.

This tough evergreen woodland perennial normally has deep purple flowers, but true black? Not to my eye, but some hybrid hellebores, like H. x hybridus ‘Black’, H. x h. ‘Black Diamond’, H. x h. ‘Onyx Odessy’ and H. x h. ‘Slate’, come pretty close. This is an extremely early bloomer, starting in mid-winter in many climates. For sun to shade in evenly moist soil. Zone 4.

Black Hollyhock
(Alcea rosea ‘Nigra’ and others)

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Alcea rosea ‘Nigra’. Source: etsystudio.com

The single black hollyhock (‘Nigra’) has been around for a long time: Thomas Jefferson, the third American president, even grew it on his estate, Monticello, in 1629. The flowers are very dark indeed, definitely looking black in many light situations. There are now similar cultivars, like ‘Black Beauty’, ‘Black Knight’ and ‘Black Watchman’, but they seem to vary little from good ol’ ‘Nigra’. In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion most if not all of them are just ‘Nigra’ with a new name. There are doubles, too, including  ‘Black Prince’ and ‘Double Black’. Again, that may well be the same plant with two different names. The fig-leaved or Antwerp hollyhock (A. ficifolia) likewise has black-flowered varieties including ’Jet Black’, ‘Black Cherry’ and, simply, ‘Black’. They’re reputed to be resistant to hollyhock rust, a disease that damages the foliage of the common hollyhock (A. rosea). Hollyhocks are either biennials or short-lived perennials, but they self-sow and can thus maintain themselves for decades. Great as a tall black flower for the back of the border in a fairly sunny spot. Zone 3.

Black Hoya
(Hoya ciliata)

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Hoya ciliata. Source: burbnursery.blogspot.ca

This is a fuzzy-leaved climber bearing star-shaped deep maroon to black flowers with a yellow crown in the center. They are said to smell like peanut butter! I mention “said to”, as I have killed this plant twice and have yet to see it bloom. This is definitely not your grandmother’s tough-as-nails wax plant (Hoya carnosa), but rather much more delicate, needing high humidity and careful watering at all times. Given its zone 10 rating, this is going to be a houseplant for anyone living outside the tropics.

Black Hyacinth
(Hyacinthus orientalis ‘Midnight Mystic’)

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Hyacinthus orientalis ‘Midnight Mystic’. Source: vanmeuwen.com

This is a fairly recent introduction (2007), but still, can be found if you look around a bit. And it’s now sold at regular prices: the first three bulbs sold for nearly $300,000 US, a record for a hyacinth! It’s by far the darkest hyacinth, yet perhaps its somber color is offset by its heady and delicious perfume. ‘Dark Dimension’, an even more recent hybrid, is very similar. Full sun to partial shade with good drainage. Zone 4.


Interested in black flowers? Read the second part: More Black Flowers for a Goth Garden!