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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More Black Flowers for a Goth Garden

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This blog, about black and near-black flowers you can grow, is the second part of the article Black Flowers for a Goth Garden which I encourage you to read as well.

Black Iris
(Iris chrysographes)

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Iris chrysographes ‘Black Form’. Source: jparkers.co.uk

Unlike black forms of the bearded iris, all complex hybrids, this smaller, more delicately flowered iris is naturally black … well, almost. In the wild, it varies from reddish violet to near black, enough to justify its common name, which is indeed black iris. Several cultivars are more reliably black than the species, including I. c. ‘Black Form’, I. c. ‘Black Beauty’, I. c. ‘Black Knight’ and I. c. ‘Kew Black’. Other naturally black-flowered irises include I. nigricans, I. atrofusca and I. atropurpurea. Full sun or partial shade in rich, well-drained soil. Zone 4.

Black Knight Butterfly Bush
(Buddleia davidii ‘Black Knight’)

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Buddleia davidii ‘Black Knight’. Source: Ptelea, Wikimedia Commons

This large shrub with arching branches (it easily reaches 10 feet [3 m] tall and 15 feet [5 m] wide if you don’t prune it back) will produce its delightfully scented spikes of deep purple flowers through much of the summer. Spectacular, especially when hordes of butterflies visit its flowers, as they usually do! Best reserved for moderate climates (it will grow, with protection and harsh pruning, in zone 5, but really only thrives in zone 7 and above). Unfortunately, it can be invasive where it is hardy due to excessive self-sowing. Check before you plant it: doing so is illegal in some jurisdictions. Full sun and fairly dry conditions are best.

Black Lily
(Lilium Asiatic cultivars)

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Lilium ‘Midnight Mystery’. Source: amazon.com

Asiatic lilies seem to include quite a few very deep purple varieties that will certainly look black in the right light: ‘Black Charm’, ‘Dimension’, ‘Landini’, ‘Midnight Mystery’ and several others. All are fairly hardy bulbs (to zone 4) and easy enough to grow where there are no lily beetles. Lilium martagon cattaniae, with much smaller Turk’s cap flowers, is another deep purple lily with black overtones (zone 3). Plant lilies in full sun to partial shade in rich, well-drained soil.

Black Orchid
(Fredclarkeara After Dark and others)

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Fredclarkeara After Dark ‘SVO Black Pearl’. Source: orhideya-internet-magazin.flo.com

There are quite a few claimants to the title of the blackest orchid, not to mention orchids that are stained or sprayed black to improve sales, but most orchid lovers would undoubtedly claim that the blackest hybrid orchids are the various clones of Fredclarkeara After Dark, a small but highly perfumed orchid resulting from a three-way cross between the genera Catasetum, Clowesia and Monmordes. It can flower several times a year and is not hard to grow either … at least, not once you learn it needs to go through a period with no watering at all once it starts to drop its leaves. There are a few black (ish) species orchids, but the vampire orchid, Dracula vampira, with three wide fairly black sepals looking like bat wings, certainly has the most fear-inspiring name! Zone 10.

Black Pansy
(Viola x wittrockiana cvs)

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Viola x wittrockiana ‘Halloween II’. Source: mullerseeds.com

There’s no lack of choice here! There are lots of black pansies, including the following cultivars: ‘Black Accord’, ‘Black Beauty’, ‘Black Moon’, ‘Black Star’, ‘Clear Crystals Black’, and ‘Halloween II’. Black pansies are widely available and just about every garden center carries them. And of course, perhaps the best thing about pansies is that, under the right conditions, notably fairly cool temperatures, moist soil and decent light, they’ll bloom from spring right through fall. They’re sold as annuals, but are actually short-lived perennials, usually good for at least two years of bloom. Easy to grow from seed, that makes them an inexpensive choice for the garden. They self-sow … but tend to gradually revert to smaller flowers and lighter colors over time. Oh! And the flowers are edible should you need a black flower to decorate some sort of macabre Halloween meal. Pansies dislike hot climates and will not thrive there in summer, but can be grown as winter annuals in many areas of zones 8 and 9. Zone 4.

Black peony
(Paeonia suffruticosa cvs)

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Paeonia suffruticosa ‘Black Jade Paragon’. Source: china-plants.com

The very darkest herbaceous peonies (P. lactiflora) really aren’t that close to black. At best, they could be said to be burgundy red. ‘Peter Brand’ and ‘Chocolate Soldier’ are probably the best-known “black” peonies, but ‘Black Beauty’, ‘Charm’ and ‘Don Richardson’ are also good choices. Tree peonies (P. suffruticosa), on the other hand, which are actually shrubs rather than trees, come in much darker shades than the herbaceous types, probably due to the addition of P. delavayi genes, whose nodding flower are naturally red brown, to the mix (P. suffruticosa is a complex hybrid with many tree peony species in its background). This has given some very dark forms that could certainly be considered very close to black, such as ‘Black Jade Paragon’ (‘Guan Shi Mo Yu’), ‘Black Panther’, ‘Black Sea’ and ‘First Crow of the Year’. All peonies prefer full sun in rich and deep soil. Zone 4.

Black Perennial Cornflower
(Centaurea montana ‘Black Sprite’)

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Centaurea montana ‘Black Sprite’. Source: lotosk.com.ua

A black-flowered (well, let’s say deep purple) version of a very popular blue-flowered perennial with spidery blooms. It self-sows and comes mostly true. Easy to grow in sun well-drained soil. Early summer bloom. ‘Jordy’ is similar. Zone 3.

Black Petunia
(Petunia x atkinsiana ‘Black Velvet’ and others)

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Petunia x atkinsiana ‘Black Velvet’. Source: parkseed.com

Fairly new to the gardening scene, the first black petunia, ‘Black Velvet’, was only introduced in 2010, yet there are already several other black varieties, including ‘Back to Black’ ‘Black Cat’, ‘Black Magic’ and ‘Little Black Dress’. Buy them in packs at spring planting time or sow your own in late winter: they’ll bloom from late spring until mid-fall. Full sun to partial shade. Good drainage. Annual.

Black Poppy
(Papaver somniferum [P. paeoniflorum] cultivars)

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Papaver somniferum ‘Black Peony’. Source: amazon.com

The opium poppy is an annual with gray-green leaves that produces huge flowers, single or double, in a wide range of colors, including a very deep purple close to black. The best-known cultivar is the very double ‘Black Peony’, but there are others: ‘Black Beauty’ (double), ‘Single Black’ (single), ‘Turkish Black’ (single), etc. Opium poppies are a snap to grow: just sow them where you want them to bloom and stand back. They’ll likely self-sow and be with you for years! The seeds, by the way, are edible and can be added to breads and cakes. Of course, this is the same plant from which opium, heroin, morphine and other opiates are derived, but in most countries growing opium poppies is legal as long as you don’t harvest drugs from it. Full sun and any well-drained soil, even poor soil, will do.

Black Pussy Willow
(Salix gracistyla melanostachys)

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Salix gracistyla melanostachys. Source: botanicaplantnursery.co.uk

This is a non-invasive, shrubby willow that with red winter stems spotted with black scales, followed in early spring by fuzzy black male catkins enhanced by stamens that are initially brick-red, then yellow. The oblong leaves are very dark green. For a sunny location in rather moist soil. Excellent cut flower. Zone 5.

Black Rose
(Rosa ‘Baccara’)

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Rosa ‘Baccara’. Source: Cynthia Crawley, Flickr

You can sometimes find roses dyed black in florist shops, but you’ll need a bit of imagination to see black in garden roses. They’re usually at best very deep red with black highlights. About the blackest is the hybrid tea rose ‘Baccara’ and, with over 25 million plants sold since it was launched by the French rose hybridizers, Meilland, in 1954, it’s undoubtedly the most widely grown as well. Others worth trying are ‘Black Beauty’, ‘Black Lady’, ‘Black Pearl’, ‘Night’ (‘Lady Sackville’), ‘Nigrette’ (‘Louis XIV’), ‘Taboo’ (‘Barkarole’) and ‘Twilight Zone’. Most of these are hybrid teas and will only be solidly hardy in zone 7 and above, but you can try them in zone 5 with proper winter protection. Full sun, rich, well-drained soil.

Black Scabiosa
(Scabiosa atropurpurea ‘Black Knight’)

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Scabiosa atropurpurea ‘Black Knight’. Source: estystudio.com

This is an easy-to-grow annual with pincushion flowers, with burgundy-red or darker flowers dotted with white stamens. It makes a great cut flower and butterflies love it. ‘Black Cat’ is very similar. Full sun, well-drained soil.

Black Streptocarpus
(Streptocarpus x hybridus cultivars)

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Streptocarpus x hybridus ‘Black Panther’. Source: angeldaniel, Flickr

This popular houseplant, also called Cape primrose, comes in some pretty dark shades. I happen to like ‘Black Panther’ because of its two yellow “eyes,” but ‘Black Magic’, ‘Black Gardenia’, ‘Dimetris’ and ‘Morion’ are just as black if not blacker. Easy to grow in moderate light. Try it too in the outdoor garden in partial shade. Zone 9.

Black Sweet William
(Dianthus barbatus ‘Nigrescens’)

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Dianthus barbatus ‘Sooty’. Source: sampleseeds.com

There are several deep purple to near black sweet Williams around, apparently all derived from ‘Nigrescens’, an old-fashioned variety, and all have purplish leaves and a sweet fragrance to boot. These include ‘Sooty’ and ‘Black Adder’. They’re usually biennials or short-lived perennials, but will survive in gardens for decades by self-sowing. Zone 3.

Black Tulip
(Tulipa cultivars)

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Tulipa ‘Paul Scherer’. Source: brentandbeckysbulbs.com

When French author Alexandre Dumas wrote the novel “La Tulipe Noire” in 1850, there were no black tulips. But there are now! The best known is the single late tulip ‘Queen of Night’, launched in 1945, and it’s widely available, but experts say there are darker tulips than that, including a few currently under development and not yet released or even named. In the meantime, ‘Paul Scherer’, a Triumph tulip launched in 1997, is considered the blackest of commercial tulips, a few shades darker than ‘Queen of Night’. And you’ll also find other black tulips like single late varieties ‘La Tulipe Noire’, ‘Café Noir’ and ‘Black Beauty’, double late black tulips, like ‘Black Hero’ and ‘Uncle Tom’, and even parrot tulips like ‘Black Parrot’ and ‘Frozen Night’. All are easy to grow in full spring sun and well-drained soil. Zone 3.

Black Viola
(Viola x hybrida, syn. V. cornuta, various cultivars)

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Viola x hybrida ‘Molly Sanderson’. Source: kwietnik.com

Like smaller-flowered, more perennial pansies, garden violas come in all shades of the rainbow, and indeed many more shades than the best rainbow can muster, including black. In fact, they are among the blackest flowers you can grow. There are many black varieties, including ‘Black Magic’, ‘Blackout’, ‘Highland Black’ and ‘Molly Sanderson’. Note that some of the older black varieties, like ‘Bowles Black’, are distinctly more purple than the varieties cited. An easy to grow, long-blooming perennial for sun (in cooler climates) to partial shade (warmer ones). Zone 3.

Mourning Widow Geranium
(Geranium phaeum)

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Geranium phaeum. TeunSpaans, Wikipedia Commons

This popular perennial is also called dusky crane’s bill and black widow geranium. It blooms abundantly in early summer, with nodding flowers whose dark purple petals arch somewhat backwards while its stamens project forward. The somber nodding flowers are said to look like a widow sobbing and gave the plant is common names. The leaves of many cultivars, like the popular ‘Samobor’, are splotched purple black. A snap to grow in full sun or partial shade, it can however become a bit invasive through aggressive self-seeding. Zone 3.

Silver-leaf Pelargonium
(Pelargonium sidoides)

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Pelargonium sidoides. Source: geraniumsuk.com

You may also know this plant as silver-leaf geranium, but it was moved to the genus Pelargonium over 200 years ago. It’s a small plant with silvery leaves and airy clusters of small dark purple flowers that appear sporadically throughout the year. Treat it like any other pelargonium, that is, by giving it a sunny location in well-drained soil and watering as needed. Grow it indoors over the winter (it’s not very hardy: zone 9) and, if possible, outdoors in the summer. This pelargonium also has interesting medicinal properties, especially in the treatment of bronchitis.

Other Black Flowers

Here are few other plants that offer black or near-black flowers: black anthurium (Anthurium [several cultivars]), black gladiolus (Gladiolus ‘Black Star’), black jade vine (Mucuna nigricans) and black sunflower (Heliantbus annuus ‘Black Magic’), plus quite a few also-rans (plants that are said to be black, but which, from my point of view, just aren’t black enough to make the grade): black carnation (Dianthus caryophyllus ‘King of the Blacks’), black daylily (Hemerocallis ‘Jungle Beauty’), Black Prince snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus ‘Black Prince’), chocolate cosmos (Cosmos atrosanguineus), chocolate lily (Fritillaria camschatcensis) and Persian lily (Fritillaria persica).


And there you go! Enough black flowers to fill even the largest garden with gloom.