Weird & Wonderful Plants

Speaker: Alan Martin
27th February

Alan told us he had a Horticultural Diploma from Sparsholt College and had been inspired by the plants in the Jerusalem Botanic Gardens in Israel. He explained that plants had been on the planet before animals for millions of years and provide food, shelter, medicine and cosmetics for example and are the start of every food chain. There are 300,00 species of plants plus varieties and sub species. We can’t do without them! He then showed us a series of photographs of some amazing plants world wide and told us about them.

He started off with the Big Plants, then moved on to the oldest plants and finished with plants relationships with animals including US!

Size Matters

Amorphophallus Titanium (Titan Arum Lily)

Amorphophallus Titanium


The Titan Arum Lily is endemic to western Sumatra, where it grows in openings and in rainforests on limestone hills. It only has a 20 year life and three flowerings. When the flower is open it only lasts for 2/3 days.

Victoria Amazonica water lily

Victoria Amazonica Water Lily


The Victoria Amazonica water lily has enormous leaves, white flowers turning pink in the evening and when pollinated it then dies. The structure of the leaves enables the plant to support heavy weights.

African Baobab

African Baobab (Adansonia Digitata)


The Baobab Tree is a soft wood so sucks up moisture, so big a pub, house, and toilet have been made inside them. The fruit is known as monkey bread and the leaves are tasty, it can also provide clothing and water.

Sequoia National Park - General Sherman

Sequoiadendron Giganteum (Giant Sequoia, Giant Redwood, Sierra Redwood, Sierran Redwood, or Wellingtonia)


Another example was the Sequoiadendron giganteum (Redwoods) the biggest trees on earth. General Sherman the largest giant in the Sequoia National Park in the southern Sierra Navada. A further one is The President 3,200 years old and 247 feet tall.

Coco de Mer

Coco de Mer (Lodoicea Maldivica)


Coco de Mer the double coconut from the Seychelles, the largest seed in the world, weighing in at 40 lbs.

Other strange plants illustrated included the Durian fruit which smells disgusting but purportedly tastes good (acquired taste). Because of its foul odour, it has been banned in certain places. In several Southeast Asian cities it is illegal to eat durian in a public place; in Singapore, it is illegal to bring durian into hotels, subways, airports, and any other form of public transportation.

The Monkey No Climb tree has smooth brown bark and dark pointed spines on its trunk.

The Bullhorn Acacia and ants have a mutualistic relationship with many facets:


(a) Large thorns provide nesting for ants.

(b) Nectar provides food for ants.

(c) Ants swarm to defend anything eating the tree.

(d) The ants also clear an area around the base of the tree to reduce competition for nutrients.


There are other ant plants, for example myrmecophytes, that will support ant colonies.

The Dynamite tree (Hura crepitans) is also known as the Sandbox tree. The fruit is a large capsule with seeds that can be launched at up to 160 mph. Ripe pods can catapult the seeds as far as 330 ft with a loud explosive sound.

He also mentioned the more familiar sundews, pitcher plants and venus fly traps. Plants of desert regions were also illustrated including Cactus Gigantea; saguaros have a relatively long life span. They take up to 75 years to develop a side arm and can live for hundreds of years.

Cactus Gigantea

Saguaros (Cactus Gigantea)


Alan then told us about some of the oldest plants, the bristlecone pine (pinus longaeva) which have been around for 4000 years and take 1000 years to decay when dead.

Some plants which have been grown from ancient seeds, lupininus artictus from 10,000 year old seeds (not so) and silene stenophylla from 30,000 year old seeds found 125 feet down in the permafrost in an ancient squirrels nest.

Plants which are useful to us, the fast growing Bamboo Vulgaris and the humble sunflower which follows the sun throughout the day and interestingly its seeds are arranged in a Fibonacci spiral pattern.

The last two plants illustrated were the Comet Orchid which has a lovely perfume and needs a Giant Hawk Moth to pollinate it which has a proboscis 30 centimeters m long to get down to the nectar.

This is a perfect example of mutual dependence of an orchid and a specific pollinator.

Finally Alan spoke about the medicinal properties of Taxus Baccata (Common Yew) from which a cancer treatment drug can be obtained. He told us that only 250 plants had been investigated for medicinal properties.

This was an absorbing and fascinating talk with wonderful photos of some of the strangest plants in the world. Alan was ably assisted by his wife Sylvia who managed the presentation for him.

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