Tag Archives: star trek

Garden of Horrors: Rafflesia

Garden of Horrors: Rafflesia

Not sure what it says about Garden of Horrors, but we seem to feature a whole lot of parasitic plants. It’s not intentional. Perhaps it’s a nature vs. nurture thing—maybe if they weren’t so disgusting these plants wouldn’t become parasites! You know? Maybe if they had gone to college, bought a house, and settled down, things would have turned out differently! You ever thought about THAT plants?

Ahem—regardless of the reasoning, today’s featured plant is one I’m sure many of you expected to see sooner or later. After all, it looks like a cheesy prop from the Star Trek: The Original Series and it smells like rotten meat. That’s right; we’re looking at the Rafflesia more commonly known as the carrion flower or corpse lily.

"Rafflesia keithii" by Mike Prince
Rafflesia keithii by Mike Prince, 2014

The Rafflesia (technically a family of twenty-eight distinct species) is often called “Queen of the Parasites.” It’s such a parasite that you can’t see anything other than its goofy-ass blossom. There are no leaves. No roots. The rest of the plant—mostly made up of the rootlike haustorium—spreads like a creeper through the tissue of its host vine. There it gathers the nutrients needed to grow its enormous fleshy flower.

And what a flower it is. This is the largest flower on earth. Others are mere pretenders. How large is this thing? Well, this sucker can be nearly three and a half feet wide and weigh up to twenty-two pounds. “A beaut” or “an absolute unit” as they say on the farm. Across the genus, the look remains mostly the same, but the details shift. Some are wartier than others. A few wilt quicker. Others grow smaller. Some are more star-shaped. But they all have the distinctive five-petals, the fleshy look, and… oh, and the smell.

There’s a reason this is called the carrion flower. The title is more than appropriate for something so gross. Most often, the buds take months to develop, and when they blossom, they smell like rotting flesh. Neat? This Eau de mort (Yeah, okay. Look, I know that translates as “death water” but I’m trying to evoke the concept of perfume. Work with me here!) attracts carrion flies which in turn pollinate the unisexual flowers. I have to say; you need to rethink your pollination strategy if you have flies working as your go-between during sexy times.

Goofy looking, parasitic, and smells like death—I’d say this is a fitting entry into the Garden of Horrors. Thankfully, many of us will never have to smell these flowers, it’s generally found in the rainforests of Southeast Asia, and they’re rare, taking months to blossom and then lasting only a few days when they do. If you want to see what this strange flower looks like opening, I’ve embedded a video above. Silly as it is, let’s all take a moment and be thankful we can’t smell it.


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Vonda N. McIntyre

Her Own Successes

“All her life she had made her own mistakes and her own successes, both usually by trying what others said she could not do.”

Vonda N. McIntyre, Aztecs, 1977


Requiescat in pace, Vonda. Thank you for all of the incredible worlds. (For me personally, I discovered her work through 1981’s The Entropy Effect, one of the first Star Trek novels I’d ever read—though, I wouldn’t find it until the early 90s.)

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.


☠️ More Garden of Horrors


Dead Drop: Missives from the desk of K. M. AlexanderWant to stay in touch with me? Sign up for Dead Drop, my rare and elusive newsletter. Subscribers get news, previews, and notices on my books before anyone else delivered directly to their inbox. I work hard to make sure it’s not spammy and full of interesting and relevant information.  SIGN UP TODAY →

Pay the Writer

Pay the Writer

Rest in peace, Harlan Ellison. You incredibly complex man, you.

I’ve seen many good folks sharing all sorts of stories about Ellison. Three that stuck out: John Scalzi’s piece for the LA Times, Neil Gaiman’s heartfelt blog post about their friendship, and this wild thread where Ellison publically plans a conspiracy to commit murder at Dragon Con. I’m sure there are many more.

If you are interested in reading Ellison’s work (there’s a reason he’s an SFWA Grand Master), I recommend starting with either I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream or Repent, Harlequin!” Said the Ticktockman. He also wrote the greatest episode of Star Trek ever.