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Latin name: Nepenthes and Sarracenia
Superpowers: Eats meat
Where from: Nepenthes are found in Tropical Asia and South Pacific; Sarracenia in America
Pitcher plants are found in areas where the soil does not contain enough food for most plants to survive. They use bright colours or sweet nectar to tempt flies and other insects into cup-shaped traps where they get stuck and drown in the liquid in the bottom. The insect gradually dissolves, releasing nutrients – food the plant can use to help it grow.
Plants that eat animals are called carnivorous plants. In the rainforests of Asia, Nepenthes pitcher plants have been known to eat frogs, birds and even rats.
Latin name: Amorphophallus titanum
Superpowers: Can smell it half a mile away
Where from: Sumatra
Up to 3m tall, this is the biggest and smelliest flower in the world. When it blooms it releases a disgusting smell, a bit like rotting meat that can be smelled over a long distance. Since the plants tend to be a long way apart and do not flower very often, the scent is thought to be essential for attracting insects to spread their pollen.
There are a number of flowers that smell bad and they are often pollinated by flies, beetles or other insects that normally feed on dead animals.
Latin name: Sequoia sempervirens
Superpowers: Taller than eight buses stacked end to end
Where from: California, USA
The evergreen coast redwood is the world’s tallest living tree. They often reach heights of 107m and diameters of 5m and the biggest ever was discovered in August 2000 when it measured 112.6m.
They grow to their greatest size along the west coast of America, in sheltered and damp areas with rich soil. Young redwoods can grow 2m in a single season and they use sunlight so efficiently that they can grow even in deep shade. Their ability to transport water all the way from the soil to the leaves is amazing – like sucking a drink through a 100m long straw – and they are also believed to get water directly from foggy air.
Latin name: Ananas comosus
Superpowers: Too unusual to eat
Where from: Brazil
Pineapples were discovered by Christopher Columbus about 500 years ago and because they were very rare, royalty would serve them at dinner to impress people. They were so unusual that they were called ‘The King of Fruits’ and very often they would not be eaten, but would go on to other dinner parties to impress other guests.
They are hard to grow in the UK so in the 18th Century people spent lots of money building specially designed ‘pineapple pits’ that were heated to just the right temperature using stoves and about 15 tonnes of manure. And they still took up to three years to produce a fruit, if you were lucky. Only the very best kitchen gardens could grow them and, at the time, it was the same idea as showing off by having a fast car or expensive trainers. You can see old pineapple pits at the Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall.
Latin name: Musa
Superpowers: This bunch of bananas fed a whole school!
Where from: Canary Islands, Spain
The world’s largest bunch of bananas weighed 130kg and contained 473 individual fruit – which is enough for nearly two years worth of packed lunches (94 weeks and three days to be exact, with no holidays!.
Bananas originally come from Malaysia but they have spread around the world and now many of them are grown in Spain and the Caribbean. They grow on palm trees in huge bunches; the little bunches or ‘hands’ of bananas you get in shops are cut off the bigger ones to make them easier to sell (or you would have to eat an awful lot of bananas in one go!). Bananas contain potassium and energy and are very good for you.
Latin name: Senecio vulgaris
Superpowers: Produces huge numbers of tiny seeds
Where from: Found worldwide
Groundsel is a weed that is common in gardens. It has yellow daisy-flowers and can grow all year round. Weeds are clever and can grow very fast and groundsel grows, flowers and makes seeds very quickly, sometimes covering its whole lifecycle in five or six weeks. It can also germinate all year round and produces lots of seeds – over 1000 per plant.
Because groundsel grows so fast it can smother young garden plants and vegetables so gardeners need to weed it out before it sets seed. Cinnabar moths are exciting, red and black, day flying moths; you can often see their black-and-yellow striped caterpillars eating the leaves of groundsel and its relative, ragwort.
Latin name: Pinus longaeva
Superpowers: As old as the pyramids!
Where from: California, USA
Bristlecone pines live a seriously long time: the oldest one found so far is estimated to be 4767 -years-old. This means that it was a sapling when the Egyptians were building the pyramids, 400-years-old when they built Stonehenge and it was about 2758-years-old when Christ was born.
Bristlecone pines grow very slowly because they live in a cold, dry, windy places and because they grow slowly their wood is very hard and full of resin. This means that it is difficult for insects and fungi to attack and damage the tree, which helps it live longer. The oldest living tree is sometimes called ‘Methuselah’ after the longest-lived person in the Bible.
Latin name: Campsis radicans
Superpowers: This plant doesn't need bees to spread pollen
Where from: North America
Flowers often use bees to spread pollen from one to another, which helps them to produce fruit and seeds. But in America, the trumpet vine does not use bees, it uses birds called hummingbirds. Hummingbirds have long beaks and tongues to feed from the big, brightly coloured flowers. Rather than flapping their wings, they move them in a figure of eight so they can hover like tiny helicopters and they can even fly backwards! The bee hummingbird is the smallest bird in the world.
Bird pollinated flowers produce lots of sugary nectar, as birds get very hungry. The flowers are often very long and thin with the nectar at the bottom of a long tube. The birds’ beaks are long and thin to match, so they can get to the nectar at the bottom of the flowers, but the bees can’t steal it. Bird flowers are not usually scented as birds do not smell very well. While the bird is feeding, its head gets covered in pollen that it passes on to the next flower it visits.
The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.