Episode 71: Weird Plants by botanist Chris Thorogood
Houseplants are all weird and wonderful, but there are some that outdo the rest for their ability to surprise us.
Dr Chris Thorogood is a botanist at Oxford Botanic Garden with a clever sideline in painting brilliant pictures of the plants he loves and studies: his new book, Weird Plants, is a brilliant book for anyone who wants to delve a bit deeper into some of the strangest corners of the botanical world.
In today’s episode I find out from Chris why engineers are studying the slippery qualities of Nepenthes pitchers, which creature uses Low’s pitcher plant as a toilet, and why Stapelia flowers look mouldy.
Scroll down for a list of plants mentioned in this episode, details of how to sign up as a patron of the show on Patreon, and more.
Hydnora africana is pictured on the cover of the book and has to count as one of the world’s most bizarre plants.
Low’s pitcher plant (Nepenthes lowii) produces toilet-shaped pitchers - handy for the shrews that climb up and eat the nectar, then defecate into the pitchers.
Nepenthes hemsleyana is a native of Borneo - its pitchers provide a daytime resting place for woolly bats.
Stapelia flowers mimic the fur of a dead animal or a mouldy carcas as a way of attracting flies, as does Orbea variegata. Sapromyophily is the term for the technique of mimicking a dead animal to attract flies.
Titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum) is the giant of this trick, making it a popular attraction in many botanic gardens.
The plant I get a little coy about is Psychotria elata - aka luscious lips.
Venus flytraps (Dionaea muscipula), Chris explains, have been found to be distant relatives of sundews and nepenthes; we agree Sarracenias need to be grown more widely too.
Question of the week
Katie wanted to know why her Ceropegia woodii aka string of hearts had gone droopy - I suspect she’s been overwatering this plant, which grows in rocky crevices in its native South Africa so likes really sharp drainage and not too much water. I recommend repotting in cactus compost or houseplant compost with added perlite, and cutting back on the water, especially during winter.
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