They’re green, they’re mean, and they will totally kill you. Or, at the very least, make you run away.
In honor of the upcoming release of Growing Concerns, I bring you 21 truly horrifying botanical terrors, from right here, on Mother Earth.
1. Apple Seeds
The evil queen in Snow White didn’t really need to dip that apple in poison. Chewing on a handful of these seeds can be fatal, as they contain trace amounts of cyanide.
[Source]; Image by André Karwath
2. Octopus Stinkhorn
Straight out of the Cthulhu universe, this fungus begins life in a creamy white sac that resembles an egg, before four to seven bright red tentacles burst out in the next stage. It is said to smell like rotting flesh. It is edible, if that’s your thing, though.
3. Death Camas
If its layman name isn’t enough to turn you off, try its Latin one: Toxicoscordion venenosum is a mountain plant in North America that is extremely toxic, often causing neurological complications and seizures if consumed. Eating anywhere between 2-6% of your body mass can lead to death.
[Source]; Image by Albert Herring
4. Spurge Laurel
Innocuous in appearance, the Spurge Laurel (which isn’t actually a laurel) is poisonous in its entirety; even the sap can cause uncomfortable rashes. Its berries are poisonous to humans, but not birds. Did I mention it’s invasive?
5. Gympie Gympie
This world-famous nettle, more easily researched as Dendrocnide moroides, is one of the most painful plants in the world to touch, leaving a rash that can burn for months. The neurotoxin it delivers is also potent enough to kill humans.
[Source]; Image by Rainer Wunderlich
6. Cryptococcus neoformans
Meet Cryptococcus neoformans, a partial-fungi commonly found in pigeon turds. Why did it make the list? Cryptococcus neoformans is what is known as an opportunistic fungus, and frequently makes its happy, healthy, deadly home in human lungs and your brain. It’s a bit of an incestuous, polygamous villain too, frequently reproducing with its own clones to take over your body more quickly.
[Source]; Image by Dr. Graham Beards
7. Humongous Fungus
If you’re from Oregon, you probably know all about Armillaria solidipes. The mycelium of this common mushroom attacks tree bark and is able to spread quickly. It’s ticket to fame, though, is that one colony is dubbed “The Largest Living Organism in the World”, stretching over 3.2 square miles (8.4 km²). Not only is it one of the biggest, it’s also one of the oldest–this mushroom colony is estimated to be between 2,000 and 8,500 years old. No outliving this one.
8. Trembling Giant
While we’re on the subject of really freaking old plant-life, I should mention the Quaking Aspen, and a single-male colony in south-central Utah. The Trembling Giant is the oldest plant organism on Earth, with a root system that dates back 80,000 years. To put that into perspective: Modern Home sapiens were just leaving Africa 80,000 years ago. The Trembling Giant has witnessed almost all of human history. He’s also is the world’s heaviest organism, weighing in at six million kilograms (or 6,600 tons).
9. King’s Lomatia
Forget Clone Wars. It’s already begun. King’s Lomatia, or Lomatia tasmanica, is a species of plant that has only been able to survive because its final member has been cloning itself for over 40,000 years. And it doesn’t take much. If the King loses a branch, that piece just sprouts new roots and starts its own branch of the, pardon the term, family tree. Our clones will never be as cool as plant clones.
[Source]; Image by Shantavira
10. Bleeding Tooth Fungus
Tasty, right? Actually no, despite its other nicknames (“Strawberries and Cream” and “Red Juice Fungus”), the Bleeding Tooth Fungus is highly inedible, and even has black thorns hidden beneath its fruit if you’re still not persuaded. If you’re still super hungry, you can give it a taste, but the mushroom is as bitter as its avoidance to beauty.
11. Destroying Angel
From the family of epic names, the Destroying Angel lives up to its moniker, being one of the deadliest mushrooms in the world. One need only eat half a cap to die from its toxins, which create irreversible complications if not treated within five hours.
[Source]; Image by Jason Hollinger
12. Water Hyacinth
One of the most popular plants to put in your water garden, Eichhornia crassipes, or the water hyacinth, isn’t poisonous or painful, but it is invasive. Don’t let the pretty flowers fool you; in some countries, invasions of water hyacinth have led to the starvation of farmers who couldn’t get their numbers under control. The water hyacinth doesn’t need more than a couple of months to completely cover the surface of a pond.
13. Himalayan Blackberry
Highly invasive and as thorny as Maleficent’s infamous vine orchard, the Himalayan Blackberry can grow upwards of 4 meters in its first year. It is so good at taking over that it is almost impossible to contain, and once it gets into the wild, there’s no stopping it.
[Source]; Image from Maleficent, by Disney
14. Cedar-apple Rust Fungus
Perhaps a good ally to think about, if the plants ever decide to kill us, Cedar-apple rust fungus attacks juniper, cedar, and apple trees viciously, mutilating young saplings and destroying crops by attaching itself to trees and then spreading more of its progeny via wind. As its only real vulnerability is removing all infected trees within a 1km radius, it is one of the hardest fungi to get under control once it diseases an area.
15. Angel Trumpet
Brugmansia, or Angel Trumpet, has one of the sweetest names on our list for one of the most deadly flowers known to man. The effects of ingesting it include paralysis of smooth muscles, confusion, tachycardia, dry mouth, diarrhea, migraine headaches, visual and auditory hallucinations, mydriasis, rapid onset cycloplegia, and death. And if you’ve heard it’s a hallucinogen, you’d be correct, except people report it’s a ride of terror.
16. Stink Squid
As if the Octopus Stinkhorn wasn’t enough, Stink Squid, its equally odorous cousin, makes the list for multiplying my fears of waking up surrounded by tentacle-worm-eggs.
[Source]; Image by Noah Siegel
Famous in the past for helping villagers identify werewolves in their midst, Monkshood now makes headlines by killing campers unfortunate enough to ingest it or its poison by accident. Death by Monkshood can happen in as little as two hours, with a painful numbing of the limbs and gastrointestinal eruption being the hallmarks of the victim’s walk towards death.
[Source]; Image by Dr. Thomas G. Barnes
Back in the 19th century, bamboo became the stuff of horror movies when various countries in Southeast Asia began using it as a torture device for prisoners of war. Soldiers would be taken to a secluded place and tied above young shoots of bamboo, which would grow and slowly penetrate their bodies, like spears. Don’t believe me? Mythbusters proved it. Take a look at the video. Now imagine that bamboo worming its way through your gut. Torture indeed.
19. Algal Blooms
Algae, one of the smallest organisms on Earth, can sometimes blossom to Biblical proportions (pun intended). At times beautiful, algal blooms can actually be quite harmful and deadly. In 2004, over 100 dolphins died in mass after ingesting algae from a bloom off Florida, and red algal blooms are said to be one of the inspirations for the red sea in The Bible.
20. Doll’s Eye
Doll’s Eye, or Actaea pachypoda, is best known for its appearance as disembodied eyeballs, but is also fatal to humans if ingested. Not that I find it particularly appetizing, of course. If you stare at it long enough, it starts to feel like it’s staring right back at you.
[Source]; Image by Robert E. Wright
21. Zombie Fungus
Cordyceps are a special breed of killer fungus that will haunt your dreams and have you scratching your neck for days. They invade the brain of their host and command it to find a nice place for the fungus to grow to adulthood, at which point it busts out the back of their cranium, or their belly, and uses their tissue as a soil bed. Seriously; just try watching this video without squirming.