- Author: Jamie Chan
- Editor: Cynthia Nations
- Editor: Maggie Mah
With Halloween just around the corner, it's a good time to think about doing something a little different with your garden. How about adding drama and seasonal color with dark and mysterious plants? Here are five fascinating varieties that look exotic and also do well in our cooler coastal climate. They are sure to spark curiosity and conversation!
A Note about USDA Hardiness Zones:
All of the plants listed below have alphanumeric designations which correspond to the USDA Hardiness Zones. Each zone represents the average minimum temperature and the suitability of plants for a particular area. The lower the number, the colder the area is likely to be. Coastal areas of Northern and Central California fall into 2 zones: 9b (slightly inland) is hardy to 25-30°F and 10a (closest to the coast) is hardy to 30-35°F.
The Black Bat Flower (Tacca chantrieri)
This bizarre yet beautiful member of the yam family has wing-shaped bracts (specialized leaves) and seed pods that resemble bat faces. As an understory plant native to the forests of Asia and Australia, this unusual plant prefers mostly shade and moist, well-drained soil. It grows best in semi-tropical environments (USDA Zones 9b-11.) Black Bat flowers do not last long after they are cut so forgo the vase and enjoy them as a dramatic feature in the garden. The plant will provide large, ample blossoms beginning in late spring and continuing through early fall.
Hellebore (Helleborus, several species)
Hellebores are evergreen members of the ranunculus family with thick, dramatic, pest resistant leaves. One of the earliest bloomers, their flowers range in color from soft pink to almost black. This herbaceous perennial is happy in a wide range of climates (USDA zones 3-9) and appreciates shade in summer and sun in winter so a spot near deciduous plants might be ideal. After blooming, the foliage remains attractive into the summer and make eye-catching mass plantings in summer shaded areas. Like many other common landscape plants, be aware that Helleborus niger and Helleborus orientalis are toxic. But this just adds to that spooky reputation - beautiful and deadly!
Witch Hazel (Hamamelis, spp. - several species)
Witch hazel is a small perennial tree or large shrub which produces yellow threadlike flowers in early spring or late fall. The leaves, bark and twigs contain polyphenols and essential oils which are extracted and used in various preparations to soothe irritated skin. The plant does well in cooler areas (USDA zones 3-9) and is hardy down to 0° F but prefers full to part sun. While this plant does not seem to attract witches of any kind, the branches were often used in the past as divining rods. One thing you can be sure of: it will be a fragrant showstopper in your fall and winter landscape.
Corpse flower or Voodoo flower (Amorphophallus, several species)
This member of the philodendron family gets its name from the large “spathe” or shroud-like flower that emits a putrid odor when it blooms to attract pollinating insects, including flies. Also called Devil's Tongue, Dragon's Plant and Snake Palm, these perennial tubers are native to subtropical areas of Asia and generally do best in partial shade in USDA zones 7-10. Although most are grown for their spectacular looks, the starchy tuber of one variety (A. konjac) is processed into a kind of flour and used to make noodles and fruit jellies. Many species can grow indoors as a houseplant and then brought outside during the summer months as a potted feature in the garden. Beware – you may clear a room when these spooky plants bloom!
Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia spp. - several species)
A native to North America that grows ideally in USDA zones 6–8, the carnivorous pitcher plant loves boggy, waterlogged locations and can easily be identified by their rosette of modified leaves which form “pitchers.” While dramatic to the human eye, the pitcher shape acts as a container which holds water, attracting insects which drown and are eventually digested by the plant. These spooky herbaceous perennials prefer full sun, slightly acid soil and consistently moist conditions. In spring, each mature purple pitcher plant produces a single 3-inch flower, which starts as a downward "nodding" head and eventually reveals yellowish, pollen-bearing stamens.
These are just a few examples of some of the “spooky” plants to explore. While you are deciding, leave space in the garden for garlic—its powers to ward off vampires are legendary.
More about USDA zones: https://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov
Images from Pixabay.com
Jamie Chan is a SM/SF UC Master Gardener and the current Director of Programs and Partnerships at The Gardens of Golden Gate Park. She is a native San Franciscan who loves to garden while tending chickens and honeybees in her foggy urban backyard. The article was edited by UC Master Gardeners Cynthia Nations and Maggie Mah.