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Plant Superlatives, Part II

A fungus that looks like it is oozing blood? A vine that grows fang-like protuberances? A foot long, black flower that looks like an alien maw? Choosing who to crown with the title "creepiest plant" is not going to be easy, and we will be going beyond obvious contenders like the Venus fly trap. The first member of our creepy homecoming court: Hydnellum peckii, also known as the bleeding tooth fungus.

This fungus, found in old-growth coniferous forests, got its nickname from the blood-like sap that oozes from its cap. Luckily for its neighbors, despite its gruesome appearance, this fungus is actually quite helpful, breaking down the leaves that litter the forest floor and sharing the nutrients it frees with host trees.

Another contender for creepiest plant, and one that is not so kind to its host, is the dodder vine. This vine may not appear to be very threatening, being composed mostly of thin, yellow tendrils, but once those tendrils get a hold of a host, the plant begins to earn its nicknames: strangleweed, devil guts, and witches shoelaces.

When a dodder seed sprouts, the first thing is must do is find a host, which it does by sniffing around for the healthiest, juiciest victim. And the use of sniffing is not a metaphor. Experiments show that the tiny tendril will actually swirl around its location, searching the air for chemicals released by suitable hosts. Then, once its target is acquired, the dodder will wrap itself around the host, and begin to grow

haustoria, fang-like protuberances. These fangs are what the dodder injects into the host plant in order to steal nutrients and water. And this is not harmless theft. As time goes by, the dodder sprouts more and more tendrils, stealing more and more from the host and eventually killing it. (The time-lapse video linked here really shows off the dodder's creepy side.)

Our last contender doesn't actually have any destructive tendencies. It it not a parasite, and is, in fact, related to the yam. What makes Tacca chantrieri, or the bat flower, a candidate is simply its look. This flower, which can be up to a foot long with tendrils that reach two feet, looks like a giant, open mouth ready to devour. On sight, it brings to my mind both the alien from Alien and sarlacc, the sandpit monster from Return of the Jedi. Like the look? While difficult to grow, this perennial can be grown in moist, warm environments that mimic its semi-tropical origins. If your yard fits this description, you can have a bat plant of your very own!

But back to the original question, which one of these strange beauties would you top with the creepy crown? Submit your vote below!

Who deserves the title?

  • Bleeding tooth fungus (Hydnellum peckii)

  • The dodder vine (Cuscuta)

  • The bat flower (Tacca chantrieri)

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