8 April 2019

Wakehurst's weirdest plants

Hunt out our most weird and wonderful plants at Wakehurst this Easter.

By Ellen McHale

Drosera venusta, a plant at Kew

Smelly plants

Skunk cabbage, originally native to the western USA, is a thick fleshy plant that produces very smelly flowers. The smell is like rotting meat and attracts carrion feeding pollinating insects. 

These plants have an amazing power – they can generate their own heat (a process called thermogenesis). Research has shown that they can maintain a temperature of over 20° when the ground is below freezing, allowing them to melt snow and grow earlier and faster than other plants.

Unfortunately, this plant has a habit of invading streams and damp woodlands, so needs to be carefully managed to protect these ecosystems.

You can spot this clever plant in Wakehurst's Water Garden. Hunt for this plant and other wicked weeds in our wicked weeds trail this Easter.

Skunk cabbage in the Water Garden
Skunk cabbage in the Water Garden at Wakehurst, Ellen McHale/RBG Kew

Ancient trees

Monkey puzzle trees have been around since dinosaurs roamed the earth.

Fossilised specimens of monkey puzzle trees that are 200 million years old have been found in rocks from the Jurassic Period.

Native to Chile and Argentina, these evergreen conifers were collected as seeds by our scientists and horticulturalists on an expedition to Chile. They brought back half a million seeds from 80 different species of plants.

Around 40 have been planted in Coates wood where you can see these spiky specimens for yourself. Eventually, we'll create a landscape that will feel similar to a Chilean mountain side.

Did you know that the seeds are edible? In Chile they’re often roasted and turned into mash; they taste a bit like chestnuts.

Close up of monkey puzzle tree leaves
Monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria Araucana), Zoe Stewart © RBG Kew

Giant trees

An evergreen tree with distinctive spongy red bark, the giant redwood (Sequoiadendron giganteum) can reach a staggering 95 metres in height and 12 metres in diameter. 

The giant redwood grows at an incredible speed when young. In Italy, a young tree reached a height of 22 metres in just 17 years.

Another feature of this incredible tree is fire-resistant bark. When fires break out in its native California, the tree is left unharmed. Fires actually help the giant redwood seedlings to grow, as the layer of ash provides the seeds with nutrients. 

Check out these incredible giants in Horsebridge wood.

Redwoods in Horsebridge wood
Redwoods growing in Horsebridge Wood, Wakehurst

Scary plants

For the Easter holidays only, Wakehurst will be home to a variety of carnivorous plants, including sundew plants and pitcher plants. 

The scariest of the bunch is the venus fly trap, which traps and digests insects.

Native to the subtropical wetlands on the east coast of the United States, they attract their prey using sweet nectar. When the hairs on the trap are touched, an electric charge closes the trap and its interlocking teeth form a cage. 

Once an unlucky insect is caught, flaps close tighter to squash it and enzymes are selected to digest the prey. The trap reopens a few days later once the insect has been digested. 

Meet our creepy carnivorous plants this Easter in our horrid science lab - mind your fingers! 

Venus flytrap, Dionaea muscipula
Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula)