Plant facts that will surprise you
Did you know that birds can gorge on chillies, oblivious to the taste? Or that there is a plant named after Darth Vader?
These and other amazing facts have been collated by Kew Gardens experts Christina Harrison and Lauren Gardiner for their book, Bizarre Botany.
Christina said: “We are fascinated by plants, but we are also excited by how many unusual and fantastic new plant stories we hear all the time, from bizarre uses of plants to discoveries of strange new interactions between plants and animals, insects or fungi.”
For example, did you know bulbs can alleviate dementia? Extract of some species of snowdrop and daffodil contain galantamine which has been shown to help nerve cells in the brain communicate with each other.
The ginkgo biloba tree, commonly known as the maidenhair tree, is extraordinarily resistant to forces that would kill most other plants. Six such trees grow around a mile from the centre of Hiroshima, Japan, having survived the 1945 atomic bombing.
Almost everything else living died instantly, but the burnt trees survived, re-grew and are still growing today.
Plants can be masters of disguise. Dracula orchids that grow in the cloud forests of Ecuador lure in fruit flies as pollinators by pretending to be mushrooms.
Their petals resemble a mushroom and they also emit a mushroomy scent.
Unsurprisingly, naturalist Sir David Attenborough has a number of plant namesakes.
There’s a Welsh member of the daisy family called Hieracium attenboroughianum and a genus in the Annonaceae family called Sirdavidia.
More surprisingly, a black begonia is named after Star Wars character – Begonia darthvaderiana.
Lastly, there’s hot competition among growers to produce the hottest chilli on record.
In 2013 the Carolina reaper became the current Guinness World Record holder and ethno-botanist James Wong estimated that a single one could be used to make 500 litres of curry. Yet only mammals are affected by a chilli’s heat. Birds can gorge themselves, completely unaffected.
The hottest chilli, the Carolina reaper; Bizarre Botany by Christina Harrison and Lauren Gardiner is published by Kew, priced £10