Thursday, October 29, 2009


The folks at Timber Press, sent me this wonderful little book to read a few weeks ago. Released just in time for Halloween, Black Plants, 75 Striking Choices For The Garden, showed up in the mail at just the right time.

Truth be told, I hate our backyard. I would love to just start tearing it to pieces, but I can't get a grip on what to do with it. This book has given me some great ideas for a color palate. In the plant world, black is not always black. "Black Plants" can be deep red, burgundy, brown, black, and dark purple. Just thumbing through the pages makes me dream of having these rich dark colors bordering our house! A little creepy? perhaps. Cheery? not so much. For me, this is perfection.

Here are a few of my favorites:

"Black Scallop" bugleweed
Black Hollyhock
Devil's Tongue
Chinese Cobra lily (*Extraordinary!)
Chocolate cosmos
"Karma Chocolate" dahlia
"Sooty" Sweet William (the name alone is worth having the plant!)
Persian fritillary
"Black Peony" Breadseed poppy (for your naughty garden!)
Black Bamboo (screen out your nasty neighbor, ahem)

Black Plants is the first book written by Paul Bonine, who is co-owner of the wholesale nursery Xera Plants, in Oregon. I love his descriptions of some of the more devilish plants - its like reading your favorite scary childhood book: up way past your bedtime, head under the covers, flashlight in hand.

Here are a few excerpts:

Devil's Tongue
(Amorphophallus konjac)

This sinister creature has enormous, thick stems clad in black blotches and stripes that can reach 5 feet in height. The dark brown spadix reaches a height of 3 feet and is surrounded by a glossy, chocolate-colored, rubber-textured, vaselike spathe. This fascinating plant requires patience and woodland conditions with average amounts of water during the winter months.

Vampire's Dracula Orchid
(Dracula vampire)

It is altogether fitting that this orchid is native to one tall, remote, and misty mountain in Peru. Dracula orchids are best known for their bizarre flowers. Three large petals or sepals are veined with black and white lines, each terminating in a long, midnight-black tail. The interior of the flowers is no less sinister with yellow stripes that radiate from a central white to light pink pouch, reminiscent of a small coffin.

Large Wild Ginger
(Asarum maximum)

Vigilance and curiosity are required to discover the glory of this small evergreen woodland perennial whose flowers are tucked unobtrusively at the base of its glossy heart-shaped leaves. Ornate tubular cups have a ring of white fur at the base of each petal and beyond the black throat. Each flower is so neat it's as if it was fashioned out of felt to decorate the brim of a hat. It can reach six inches tall and over time will form colonies.

Voodoo Lily
(Dracunculus vulgaris)

Also known as carrion flower, it first appears as a group of palmate leaves with irregular lobes, but it is the very large flower that steals the show. A rippling spathe with an interior the color of raw meat unfurls in a graceful shield that surrounds the jet black spadix, which can be as long as 30 inches. Pollinated by flies, the freshly opened flower casts a vile, powerful fragrance of rotten flesh, which thankfully disappears in several hours. It is best suited to a location where it may be appreciated but not smelled.

Schunke's Maxillaria
(Maxillaria schunkeana)

This small beauty from the coastal rain forests of Brazil is one of the most truly black orchids, and it blooms for an unusually extended period. Small half-inch flowers are waxy and glossy black with four rounded petals. Thriving in the mossy branches of jungle trees, in bloom it may be seen peering out like many small black eyes.

Bat Flower
(Tacca chantrieri)

What strange twist in evolutionary fate could have caused the formation of such a foreign and unlikely flower? The bat flower or cat's whiskers, as it is known, is not an invention of science fiction but a plant native to the jungles of Thailand. A long black chord of a stem suspends this flower, which is actually a group of flowers, in a rubbery black sepal. Protruding from the side of each flower are long, stringlike cords.



Karen Platt said...

To create a wonderful black plant backyard, why not get the original black plants book, Karen Platt's 'Black Magic and Purple Passion', now in its 3rd ed (2750 black plants for American gardeners with USDA zones and suppliers. Also the 4th ed with 650 new black plants is now available as an ebook only from the author's website

Fern @ Life on the Balcony said...

I actually suggest that you boycott Karen Platt's book on principal. She is going around to Amazon and Powell's and trashing authors who have written books on the same topic, and bullying bloggers who write about black plants without citing her book.

Adriana @ Anarchy in the Garden said...

Black plants named after Dracula? The way to my heart.