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The Plants of Halloween (Snap Snap)

They’re Creepy and They’re Kooky, Mysterious and Spooky, They’re All Together Ooky, The Plants of Halloween! (Snap-snap)

Macro of two insectivorous venus fly trap (Dionaea muscipula) one tightly closed and one open

Let’s talk about oddly unusual plants: plants that eat odd things, plants that have odd odors, and of course plants made famous by Hollywood.

We’ll start with Morticia Addams’ Cleopatra. I fondly remember her feeding raw hamburger meat to this oddity that resided in the conservatory at 001 Cemetery Lane, along with headless roses, hemlock, poison ivy, and henbane.

Cleopatra was Morticia’s carnivorous “African Strangler” that she grew from a small seed. Cleopatra would shake and stretch out her vining “arms” to wrap around anyone walking by her to announce that it was dinner time! I loved watching Morticia shudder as she picked up a handful of beautiful long-stemmed roses, chop off their “disgusting” blooms, and place the decapitated stems in a vase.

Next up is Audrey from Little Shop of Horrors.

In the 1960 version, Audrey Jr is a cross between a Venus Flytrap and a Butterwort that hales from outer space.

Fast forward 26 years (and a vast improvement in Hollywood props) Audrey II dines on blood and human meat. Her genetic background is said to be equal parts of Venus Flytrap and avocado. She was purchased from a Chinese flower shop during a solar eclipse for just “a dollar ninety-five”.

And now onto an oddly odiferous plant - with an odor that has been likened to that of a
rotting corpse.

May I present the Titan Arum, also known as the Corpse Flower. It grows in the wild in Sumatra, and was first scientifically described in 1878 by Italian botanist Odoardo Beccari (an oddly appropriate name). It first flowered in cultivation at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, London, UK, in 1889, with over 100 cultivated blossoms since then.

As the spathe gradually opens, the spadix heats up to 99F and rhythmically releases powerful odors to attract pollinators, insects that feed on dead animals or lay their eggs in rotting meat. The potency of the odor gradually increases from late evening until the middle of the night, when carrion beetles and flesh flies are active as pollinators, then tapers off towards morning.

Analyses of chemicals released by the spadix show the stench includes dimethyl trisulfide (like limburger cheese), dimethyl disulfide (garlic), trimethylamine (rotting fish), isovaleric acid (sweaty socks), benzyl alcohol (sweet floral scent) phenol (like Chloraseptic) and last but not least, indole (like feces). I was able to see and smell New Reekie shown above at the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh in 2017. There's a "Little Eva" in our very own Orange Coast College that I visited in 2019.

Last but not least, I end this creepy and kooky look at odd plants with two of our carnivorous friends, the Venus Flytrap and the Pitcher Plant. The Venus flytrap catches its prey - chiefly insects and arachnids - with a trapping structure formed by the terminal portion of each of the plant’s leaves, which is triggered by tiny “trigger” hairs. After trapping a yummy bug, its struggles to escape cause the ages of the lobes to close, hermetically sealing the trap, forming a “stomach” in which digestion occurs. Digestion takes about 10 days, after which the prey is reduced to a husk of chitin. The trap then reopens and is ready for reuse.

The Pitcher Plant attracts foraging, flying, or crawling insects such as flies with its cavity formed by the cupped leaf, often by visual lures such as anthocyanin pigments and nectar. The rim of the pitcher is slippery when moistened by condensation or nectar, causing insects to fall into the trap. The walls of the pitfall may be covered with waxy scales, protruding aldehyde crystals, cuticular folds, downward-pointing hairs, or guard-cell-originating lunate cells, to help prevent escape. The small bodies of liquid contained within the pitcher traps are called phytotelmata. They drown the insect, whose body is gradually dissolved.

But as for me, I greatly prefer Halloween candy. Especially Butterfingers and Baby Ruth bars, what about you?

Yours truly, Cindie Reilly, MLH Board Member

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