Are you bored with the same assortment of marigolds and impatiens at the garden center each spring? Unlike many rare items that hobbyists seek, you don’t need a fat wallet to add uncommon flowering specimens to your garden collection. Many unusual flowers are not only inexpensive, but just as easy to grow as grandma’s zinnias.
Although these flowers will never supplant roses and cosmos as flower garden staples, it’s fun to grow unusual flowers for the challenge, or as a conversation piece. Many uncommon flowers are tender tropicals, but there are some hardy perennials in this list too. Whether you have sun or shade, or are seeking a rare vine or an atypical potted plant, there is a distinguished flower on this list for your garden.
01. Bat Flower
This stunning beauty comes from the jungle to your patio container garden. One tuber of this dramatic tropical plant can grow as tall as three feet, so give it a large flowerpot to reach its potential. Keep the plant in filtered shade, and keep it moist but not soggy. This plant loves humidity as much as it hates the cold. If you find yourself reaching for a sweater, it’s time to bring the plant indoors.
02. California Firecracker
It’s a joy to find an exotic looking flower that is hardy to zone 6. Formally known as Brodiaea coccinea, this heirloom bulb will send up two-foot clusters of flowers in late spring to early summer. Allow the strappy foliage to die back naturally after blooming to encourage the plants to perennialize.
The Harlequin Glorybower (C. trichotomum shown here) is a half-hardy shrub that can grow as tall as 12 feet in the ground where winter temperatures don’t dip below 10 degrees F (zone 7). In colder regions, the slow growing plant adopts well to container culture. Whether in the ground or in a container, keep the plant moist and provide it with at least a half day of sun. If you prefer vining plants, look for Clerodendron thomsoniae, the bleeding heart vine.
04. Devil’s Tongue
The amorphophallus genus includes devil’s tongue, voodoo lily, and the notorious corpse plant, none of which are very kind names for flowers. The genus moniker itself hints at something vulgar, but the strange flowers deserve respect nonetheless. Pictured here is amorphophallus yuloensis, which you can grow from a corm in a partially shaded spot in rich soil. Protect this tropical from any whiff of frost.
05. Guinea Hen Flowers
The fritillaria genus encompasses some interesting and unusual specimens, but none quite as curious as the checkered F. meleagris variety. In spite of the fact that these flowers have been around since the 16th century, they haven’t developed the following that other spring bulbs have. Grow these petite flowers at the front of the border to admire their pattern up close, or better yet, force the bulbs indoors.
06. Hoya Flower
In nature, the hoya plant is epiphytic, and lives as a non-parasitic partner nestled in a tree branch or bark crevice. Imitate nature and provide your hoya with a sharply draining soil mix, like orchid potting mix, and mist the plant regularly. Hoyas like a sheltered spot that never gets below 40 degrees F.
Hummingbirds flock to bright tubular shaped flowers like the Juanulloa. Also known as goldfinger flowers, Juanulloa is a tropical that may bloom year around in frost-free regions. You can grow the plant as a small vine or train it as a shrub.
08. Lady’s Slipper
It’s easy to see why the lady’s slipper captivates plant collectors worldwide. Plants resemble orchids, yet are fully hardy (zone 4) and thrive in shady gardens. However, gardeners must be responsible about adding the endangered Cypripedium to the garden, and purchase only those propagated by nurseries, and never those collected from the wild.
Moisture, dappled shade, and an undisturbed location are important for these woodland plants. Humus from decaying matter in the soil is all the fertilizer lady’s slippers ever need; chemical fertilizers may lead to plant death.
Although the rocket pincushion (Leucospermum reflexum) pictured remains too rare and endangered to cultivate in a home garden, there are approximately 80 other protea species to grow as houseplants. In spite of the otherworldly appearance of these South African natives, they are surprisingly unfussy. If you can grow a cactus, you can grow a protea. They need sharp drainage, ample sunshine, and good air circulation. A light frost is OK, but bring them indoors to a sunny window where you can enjoy these winter bloomers.
10. Red Button Ginger
Like many tropical plants, red button ginger thrives in filtered sunlight. The plants may grow up to four feet tall in the ground, and about half that size as a container specimen. Unusual yellow flowers emerge sporadically from the showy red cones, and if you can bear to pick them, they are edible. Although a tropical, this plant will bounce back after light frosts, and may even grow back from the roots after a hard freeze.
11. Sensitive Plant
This plant never fails to fascinate children and adults alike. The scientific name for the remarkable reaction of these plants to touch is “seismonastic movements” and the drooping of this plant as you stroke it with your finger isn’t subtle. In fact, people once thought the Mimosa pudica contained animal-like nerves and muscles. The sensitive plant is a container-friendly 18 inches tall, but it can be invasive in the southeast.
12. Snail Vine
Easy to germinate and easy to grow, beginning flower gardeners will succeed with the snail vine, also known as corkscrew vine (vigna caracalla). Snail vine is a member of the Fabaceae family, which includes beans. Plant the seeds in a sunny spot in average soil, and wait six weeks or less for the fragrant and delicate pink flowers to appear. The hotter your summer, the happier and more robust your vine will grow, leaping to 25 feet if you’ll let it.