Episode 71: Weird Plants by botanist Chris Thorogood

Nepenthes hemsleyana : home to bats. Painting by Chris Thorogood from his book  Weird Plants .

Nepenthes hemsleyana: home to bats. Painting by Chris Thorogood from his book Weird Plants.

Tree shrew toilet: Low’s pitcher plant. Painting by Chris Thorogood.

Tree shrew toilet: Low’s pitcher plant. Painting by 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.

Weird Plants  is out now, published by RBG Kew, cost £18.

Weird Plants is out now, published by RBG Kew, cost £18.

A Venus flytrap catches its prey. Painting by Chris Thorogood.

A Venus flytrap catches its prey. Painting by Chris Thorogood.

Weird plants cover_v2.jpg
  • 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.

  • The plant Chris wishes he had included was Oxygyne, a genus of plant in family Burmanniaceae, with a blue flower.

Starfish flowers ( Stapelia gariepensis )   growing on dry mountains near the border between South Africa and Namibia. Painting by Chris Thorogood.

Starfish flowers (Stapelia gariepensis) growing on dry mountains near the border between South Africa and Namibia. Painting by Chris Thorogood.

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.
Want to ask me a question? Tweet @janeperrone, leave a message on my Facebook page or email ontheledgepodcast@gmail.com.

Are you supporting On The Ledge on Patreon yet? 

If you like the idea of supporting On The Ledge on a regular basis but don't know what Patreon's all about, check out the FAQ here: if you still have questions, leave a comment or email me - ontheledgepodcast@gmail.com. If you're already supporting others via Patreon, just click here to set up your rewards! Existing Ledge-Ends will be getting a Christmas thankyou this year: please add your postal address by mid-November to make sure you get your seasonal reward!

For those who prefer to make a one-off donation, you can still buy me a coffee! A donation of just £3 helps keep On The Ledge going: helping to pay for me to travel to interviews, and for expenses like website hosting and audio equipment. Don't forget to join the Facebook page for news of what's coming up on the show and bonus blogposts!

If you prefer to support the show in other ways, please do go and rate and review On The Ledge on iTunesStitcher or wherever you listen. It's lovely to read your kind comments, and it really helps new listeners to find the show.

Credits

This week's show featured Roll Jordan Roll by the Joy Drops, An Instrument The Boy Called Happy Day Gokarna and Water in the Creek by Josh Woodward, all licensed under Creative Commons.