Flowers You Shouldn't Stop to Smell

The Stinky

(Image credit: Flickr user b-nik)

The Voodoo Lily Take comfort, Jan Bradys of the world! The voodoo lily-along with other jaded members of the arum plant family-has found an effective way to cope with having the pretty and popular calla lily for a relative. Refusing to go unnoticed, the voodoo lily generates a distinctive odor said to approximate that of rotting flesh. And while this helps it attract flies and other pollination-worthy friends, this "sacred lily of India" has another trick up its sleeve. Common in Asia, the voodoo lily is reportedly able to rid the body of toxins. Of course, that hasn't prevented the more superficial types in other parts of the world from dubbing it "stink lily" and "devil's tongue".

(Image credit: Flickr user Jami Dwyer)

Skunk Cabbage Also a member of the arum family, the foul-smelling skunk cabbage grows mostly in Canada and is known as "devil's tobacco". (Apparently, Satan isn't much of a connoisseur.) In late winter, skunk cabbage gives off heat in order to melt the surrounding snow, strategically making it one of the first plants visible to flies when spring comes. But to its benefit, if its leaves are damaged for any reason, the skunk cabbage uses its ability to release a foul odor to keep predators away and protect itself.

The Sinister

(Image credit: Flickr user goateebird)

The Stinging Tree For low-lying plants in the rainforest, it can be a pretty hard-knock life. Being the farthest thing from the sun's rays and the closest thing to hungry herbivores, ground-dwellers such as the stinging tree of Australia have learned a special way to hog any light they can get.  In order to seize its brief moments in the sun, the plant is equipped with leaves covered in tiny, shard-like hairs just nasty enough to irritate the crap out of any human or plant that dares invade its personal space. So, how nasty is nasty? Australian legend holds that some stinging tree victims have killed themselves rather than endure the pain.

(Image credit: Flickr user petrichor)

The Venus Fly Trap Not familiar with the Dionaea muscipula? You might know it better by its wicked nickname, the Venus Flytrap. And while that's a plenty-cool pseudonym these days, the misogynistic botanists who came up with it in the 17th century didn't mean for it to be flattering. They tried to draw a connection between the Flytrap's method of luring insects and what they saw as the world's other great temptress: the vagina.

(Image credit: Flickr user robstephaustralia)

The Cobra Plant Possibly one of the sneakiest carnivorous plants out there, this pitcher-plant relative attracts insects with its long, bright, purple-spotted stalk. When a bug lands on the "cobra tongue" and follows the sweet smell of nectar into the bulb , it gets caught ...but doesn't die. In fact, the insect is only killed when it tries to escape. Because the walls of the cobra bulb are translucent, an insect is given the false impression that it can simply fly out of the cobra's lair and go on to live a long, multi-day life. Instead, the bug bumps against the wall, rolls down the stalk, and drowns in the cobra's digesting pool at the bottom.

Of course, tricking a fly is one thing. Tricking a monkey is quite another. According to legend, some Asian pitcher plants, known as nepenthes, have swallowed snakes and small monkeys. However, many botanists believe the largest item consumed by a pitcher plant of any kind to be a frog or small rodent.

(Image credit: Flickr user peupleloup)

Bladderworts Scared of swimming in large bodies of water? Quit worrying about snakes and start focusing your irrational fears on the rootless, carnivorous plants known as bladderworts. These 7-foot-long monstrosities boast hungry bladders-small, hollow sacs designed to ensnare and entrap small animals such as water fleas and aquatic worms. In fact, when prey swim near the plant, tiny hairs on the surface of the bladder are triggered, cuing the bladderwort to take in a big sip of water, thus drawing in its victim.


The article above appeared in the Scatterbrained section of the January-February 2006 issue of mental_floss magazine. It is reprinted here with permission.

Don't forget to feed your brain by subscribing to the magazine and visiting mental_floss' extremely entertaining website and blog today for more!

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Just to help clear things up a bit, there are a coup;le of different plants that are commonly called "Skunk Cabbage" in North America. Wikipedia (although not the most scholarly source in the world, in this case, useful and fairly accurate) has a page that points out that "Western Skunk Cabbage (Lysichiton americanus), also called Yellow Skunk Cabbage or Swamp Lantern, is a plant found in swamps and wet woods, along streams and in other wet areas of the Pacific Northwest, where it is one of the few native species in the arum family." Those of you on the Eastern side of the continent are used to seeing a plant that is similarly named and with a similar smell, which is the Eastern Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus), another species in the arum family found in eastern North America. Both of these plants produce a naturally occurring gas called Methyl Mercaptan, or Methanethiol, which is used for many things, not the least of which is to give otherwise odorless natural gas that distinctive "rotten egg" smell.

In short, Skunk Cabbage is awesome.
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Thanks for sharing this article - I've always been a fan of these fantastic survivors of the plant world. One note - you've got a picture of a Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia) instead of a Cobra Lily (Darlingtonia).
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Skunk cabbage is also fairly common in Oregon. There are large patches of it in the wilderness areas around mount hood, some right next to highway 26 - makes for an unpleasant addition on your weekend drive to the mountain sometimes. :)
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Skunk cabbage does not grow 'mostly in Canada'. It's wild all over the eastern US, likes swampy areas, and it's quite a nice plant in its own way. The variety down here (at least as far south as Virginia, though friends in North Carolina report being familiar with it as well) is usually purple and spotty, but there's no mistaking the smell. I like it- it's stubborn and brave enough to come out in the winter, and how cool is it to have a plant that gives off enough heat to melt the snow?
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