Tag Archives: hydnora africana

Garden of Horrors: Hydnora Africana

The idea of parasites is already creepy enough. Something deriving nutrients at the expense of a host can give one the willies. This has been amplified in fiction—many of our monsters are parasitic in nature. But parasites are common in nature and particularly common in the plant kingdom. While most look harmless, some can be downright disturbing, looking more like a movie monster than a plant. Think I’m kidding? Enter the Hydnora africana.

The flower of the Hydnora africana
The flower of the Hydnora africana

Not that’s not a Graboid. It’s a parasitic plant that lives mostly underground attached to the roots of its Euphorbia host. It has no leaves and doesn’t produce chlorophyll—but it does flower. After heavy rainfall, it reproduces by means of a creepy-mouth flower that emerges from beneath the ground and attracts pollinators. How does it do that, exactly? Well, it emits an awful odor that smells like poop. Fun! This, in turn, attracts dung and carrion beetles. The flower then traps the bugs for about a days allowing them to gather up pollen, then the flower opens like a monstrous mouth and the bugs are free to go find another Hydnora africana. It’s all very romantic.

PBS Digital Studios (arguably the best YouTube channel today) did an episode of Gross Science where Anna Rothschild explores the weird life of the Hydnora africana. She goes into more details on how this parasitic plant lives and reproduces. You can check it out below.

So, not only does the Hydnora africana look like a special effects monster taken from an episode of Star Trek: The Original Series, but it also smells like feces, and apparently (if you’re interested) this horrific thing is edible. After pollination, the Hydnora africana grows a fruit underground and apparently it tastes pretty dang good. So, if that sounds delicious to you… uh, have at it.

Happy gardening.


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