How do you define beauty? Can you limit your answer to a clear-cut definition? I don’t think so. We all have different perspectives when it comes to beauty standards. What one person believes to be ugly may be attractive to someone else. The word flower itself has a charm. So many of us may be curious to know the ugliest flowers in many aspects.
Since there are no reliable sources for ranking flowers based on their appearance, odor, and shape, check out my list of the top 10 ugliest flowers that may be unpleasing to our eyes but are the real gems.
10Monkey Orchid (Dracula simia)
The name of the orchid refers to “little dragon monkey”. The column and petals together resemble a monkey’s face. There are many species of orchid within the Dracula genus with different colors and shapes, but all exhibit a monkey face. Orchid lovers may find it interesting as the expression on the monkey’s face varies from one to the other.
Monkey orchid smells like ripe oranges. Long and few-flowered inflorescences that open successively bloom at any season. They are epiphytic and can grow in subtropical areas or greenhouses. They prefer a cold and humid environment with partial shade. The cloud forests of Southeastern Ecuador and Peru are their primary habitats.
But this rare species is now under threat of habitat loss. Even though they have unique and strange features, it is easier to maintain the plant without putting in too much effort. As they are much easier to handle, these orchid species are being exported to many countries to create several new varieties through hybridization.
9Elephant’s Head (Pedicularis groenlandica)
It is also known as the “butterfly tongue”. The flower forms many inflorescences, with dozens of tiny flowers densely packed on a single stem. These pink to purple-colored flowers catches our attention quickly due to their unique shape. The long tubular portion curved upwards at the end of the flower resembles the elephant’s trunk. Also, the two lateral lobes look like the ears of an elephant.
Bumble bees are the primary pollinators. The bees’ buzzing behavior and floral morphology play a significant role in their pollination. The unusual technique through which the flower pollinates is called buzz pollination.
The flower is common in the western high mountains of the United States. As it induces sleep, it is used to make tea and also used for pain relief. The native tribe makes use of this flower in the smoking blends since it exhibits hallucinogenic properties. Rather than the usual pink color, white variants are rarely seen. And the unusual shape of the flower alone is the primary reason for its inclusion in our list.
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8Darwin’s Slippers (Calceolaria uniflora)
Since discovered by Charles Darwin during his voyage to South America, these slipperworts are known by this name. They are usually found in the southernmost part of South America, where the temperature is relatively low. They could survive if the temperature ranges from -1 to 23 degree Celsius.
The genus Calceolaria refers to slipper-shaped blooms. They have a bright orange color with a brownish-red floral tip. A white appendage across the wide-open mouth is rich in sugar. A local bird species called seedsnipes eat this white band as they believe this fleshy part is like a berry. The bird’s head and back tap the anthers and stigma, and thus they pollinate the flowers.
The flower is huge than the 10cm tall plant. They appear as little orange penguins marching over the rock surface. The species is unique and very rarely found. They usually grow in dry heathlands. It requires sandy soil but doesn’t tolerate high temperatures. So, it is quite tricky in cultivation.
7Devil’s Hand (Chiranthodendron pentadactylon)
The flower is also called “Monkey’s hand” or “Mexican hand”. They are native to Guatemala and Mexican cloud forests, where the native Aztec tribe once harvested these flowers for generations. The Aztecs used these flowers as a traditional medicine to heal heart problems and abdominal pain. Also, there was a religious significance for the tree among the tribe.
The flower resembles an open human hand with bright red color. The five stamens look like five long and curved fingers and are directed upwards. Two strands of yellow-colored pollens run below each finger. As the flower ages, the stamens curl like a clawed hand.
The flowers appear in spring and early summer. The bats and bees who feed nectar from the cup formed by petals beneath the stamens pollinate these flowers. This rare species is hard to find and is now becoming endangered due to climate change. Their unusual design would easily catch people’s attention. The floral morphology may be strange and frightening, but they have a medical significance.
6Pelican Flower (Aristolochia grandiflora)
As the name suggests, the pelican flower bears a resemblance to the shape of a sleeping pelican. This tropical vine plant is native to the deciduous forests in Central America. It is one of the largest flowers known so far. The flower is pale greenish, with purple veins running along its surface. The dark-colored center has an animal fur-like texture. The bloom produces an extremely foul odor similar to that of rotting meat.
A yellowish-green pouch carries the reproductive organs. The texture and odor attract flies to this pouch for pollination. The inwardly pointing hairs trap the flies within the pouch. The flies deposit the pollens they have on the flower’s stigma. Whenever the flower produces pollens, the hairs start to wither, and thus the flies coated in pollen escape from the pouch and pollinate other flowers. The blooms have ornamental and medicinal use among the indigenous people. But the unpleasant smell disappoints our sense of happiness.
5Zulu Giant (Stapelia gigantea)
Zulu giant has other nicknames like “carrion flower” or “toad plant”. The flower has a pale-yellow color with concentric maroon bands. Even though a mixture of red and yellow color provides an elegant look to the flower, it produces an odor like rotting flesh. So, it is through this odor the flower attracts pollinators. Since the scent carries various sulfur compounds, it can be toxic to humans and animals.
Sometimes the flowers act as an appetite suppressant in humans due to their foul smell. This succulent mainly grows in temperate zones and desert regions of South Africa and Tanzania. They can’t tolerate cold environments.
The star-shaped blooms resemble a starfish. They have draught-resistant adaptations on their corolla. The five-petalled flower has a silky and fuzzy texture, and the thick and soft hairs form a decorative border. They are usually invasive, so there is no need for special care during their growth.
4Voodoo Lily (Amorphophallus konjac)
Voodoo Lily is also known as “Devil’s tongue”. The flower blooms out of a heavy stalk with green and white speckles. The stalk bears a large, purple-colored spathe, up to 3 feet long. Even the spathe looks like a petal but is the modified leaf of the plant. The spathe, which resembles a “calla lily“, surrounds a reddish-purple-colored protrusion called “spadix” which can be 10 to 50 inches long.
When in bloom, voodoo lily produces a strong, musty smell like rotting meat. The odor has a biological significance, as it can attract carrion-feeding flies and other insects for pollination. Voodoo lily is quite large and can proliferate without any fertilizers.
They usually grow in tropical, subtropical, and temperate rainforests. So, they are native to Southeast Asian countries like Japan, China, Vietnam, and South Indonesia. Voodoo Lily looks like a corpse flower since they belong to the same genus Amorphophallus. So, sometimes we may falsely recognize the lily as the latter. The flower may be unappealing to most of us due to its strange shape.
3Black Bat Flower (Tacca chantrieri)
Black-colored flowers are scarce. Black bat flowers have bat shapes but are uncommon in our environment. The flower is sometimes referred to as a cat’s whiskers or tiger beard. The wing-shaped bract looks like the bat’s face, and their bracteoles resemble whiskers.
Black bat flowers are indigenous to the subtropical regions of Southeast Asian countries like Malaysia, Myanmar, and South China. They appear in late summer and fall early winter as they can’t handle prolonged cold weather and low humidity. Also, they may suffer during direct sunlight. So, they love to grow under the shade of trees.
The flower bud forms different shapes during its transition to a full-fledged flower. They have no particular fragrance. So until now, it is mysterious how these flowers pollinate. Some people think the whisker-like bracteoles have played a significant role, and others suggest that they had a kind of odor to attract the pollinators. Since they are unusual to our surroundings, their strange shape, color, and texture may evoke some curiosity in us.
2Giant Padma (Rafflesia arnoldii)
Rafflesia is the largest individual flower on earth. The flower usually emits a strong unpleasant odor similar to decaying flesh. The five-petalled flower has a reddish-brown color with small white spots. The flower doesn’t have any observable leaves, roots, or stems. The flower buds are called “knops” and are cabbage-shaped with dark brown color. They became gigantic after a few months of full growth size. Their native habitats are the rainforests of west Sumatra and Borneo Island, located north of Java.
This monster flower is an endoparasite that grows on the root and stems of other plants. Carrion-feeding flies are the primary pollinators, and the fetid odor emitted by the flower can attract them. They also produce heat to spread the odor.
The Indonesian government officially announced the flower as their national rare flower. Even though the flower is not on the IUCN Red list, the number of species produced per year is decreasing at a large rate due to the promotion of Ecotourism.
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1Corpse Flower or Titan Arum (Amorphophallus titanium)
The corpse flower produces an extremely musty odor, like a rotting corpse. It has the largest inflorescence in the world that can reach over 10 ft in height. Titan arum consists of a long fragrant spadix covered by a large petal-like spathe with dark burgundy color inside. The hollow spadix bears male and female flowers. While blooming, the tip of the spadix gradually acquires human temperature. Thus, the corpse flower’s smell, color, and temperature attract the pollinators to maintain its legacy.
The putrid smell and dark reddish color resemble dead meat. The carrion-feeding flies and predatory insects are the primary pollinators. This stinky flower blooms once every seven years, and the blooms last 24 to 36 hours.
Titan arum usually takes 5 to 10 years of vegetative growth before the first blooming. They are native to the rainforests of Indonesia and Western Sumatra. But now, this species enlisted as ‘endangered’ by the IUCN reminds us about conserving their native habitat.
How we look at a flower defines the beauty that it holds. Every flower is unique. Although we have differences of opinion about good and bad-looking flowers, their conservation needs to give more importance. This negligence comes when we concern only about appearance without knowing their value. The recklessness we have when we feel a flower looks ugly in many respects, such as its shape, odor, and overall appearance, can lead to the loss of a rare species of high biological significance. That’s why many of them are listed as threatened species.