Oct Tony Huxley's Compost Corner

Autumn has sneaked up on us. Misty mornings, longer nights and a chill in the air mean Halloween is just around the corner. Soon there'll be pumpkins to carve. Jack-o-lanterns were an Irish tradition, carved from a potato or turnip. When hundreds of thousands of Irish emigrated to America during the famine, they discovered the native pumpkins were a much better medium for ghoulish sculptures. Personally, I find these bulbous orange fruits quite jolly. But if you're after botanical frights where else might you look?

vampiraFor creepiness you can't beat Dracula vampira. The flowers of this orchid look like spooky faces! Some varieties resemble fluffy monkey heads, and are just as disturbing. A true floral vamp is the Batflower, Tacca chantrieri. This amazing black, be-whiskered flower looks like it may well swoop down for a midnight snack. It's a difficult houseplant to grow but worth the effort.

'The Little Shop of Horrors' did much to boost Venus fly-trap sales. Just as creepy is the Cobra lily. It's easy to envisage these pitcher-pot plants as hooded snakes about to strike, complete with forked tongue. They tempt in insects which drown in the plant's digestive juices and are slowly consumed.

For horrific beauty, Wolfsbane takes some beating. Hooded blue flowers coyly disguise a lethal toxin that's present throughout the plant. It's an ancient plant poison so toxic it became known as The Queen of Poisons. It may also protect you against Werewolves, if it doesn't kill you first!

Plants not only know the look of fear but also the smell. Like the Voodoo lily or the charmingly named 'Corpse Flower' Rafflesia arnoldii, a parasitic plant with the largest flowers in the world. They choose flies as their pollinators, enticing them in with the perfume of rotting flesh!

But on a misty Autumn evening, as the night creeps in, nothing unnerves me more than the ghostly silhouette of the pendulous conifer Chamaecyparis nootakatensis. A dark and foreboding presence, like the Dementers so feared by Harry Potter. Menacingly looming over you; it could be about to slowly suck out your very soul!

Happy Halloween!

Tony Huxley