Plant Hall of Fame
Each bloom can be as big as 3 feet wide and can weigh up to 24 pounds. The reddish-brown flower, which emits a revolting odor, is found in Southeast Asia (primarily Borneo and Sumatra). This unusual plant produces no leaves, stems, or roots. It is a parasite on the Tetrastigma vine, which grows in the rain forest.
Smallest Flowering Plant
Wolffia augusta and Wolffia globosa
The smallest flowering plants belong to the genus Wolffia, tiny rootless plants of the duckweed family (Lemnaceae) that float on the surface of quiet streams and ponds. The entire plant body of both Wolffia augusta, an Australian species, and Wolffia globosa, a tropical species, are less than 1 mm long (less than 1/25th of an inch). An average plant is 0.6 mm long (1/42 of an inch) and 0.3 mm wide (1/85th of an inch) and weights about 150 micrograms (1/190,000 of an ounce) or approximately the weight of two grains of table salt. A bouquet of one dozen plants in full bloom would fit on the head of a pin.
Raffia Palm (Raphia regalis)
Native to tropical Africa, the raffia palm has huge leaves reaching up to 80 feet long.
Not only is the armillaria ostoyae or honey mushroom the largest fungus, it is also probably the biggest living organism on Earth. Located in Malheur National Forest in Eastern Oregon, the fungus lives three feet underground and spans 3.5 miles.
Coco-de-Mer Palm (Lodoicea maldivica)
Native to the Seychelles Archipelago in the Indian Ocean, the coco-de-mer palm is different from true coconut palms (Cocos). However, this enormous seed, which can measure 12 inches long, reach nearly three feet in circumference, and weigh more than 40 pounds, is often called the double coconut.
Orchid Family (Orchidaceae)
Certain orchids from the tropical rain forest produce the world’s smallest seeds, of which one seed weighs about 1/35,000,000 (one 35 millionth) of an ounce. These seeds are dispersed into the air like tiny dust particles, ultimately landing in the upper canopy of the rain forest.
Most Massive Living Thing
Giant Sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum)
The giant sequoia, found in California’s Sierra Nevada, was once considered the world’s oldest living thing (before the bristlecone pines and creosote bush were discovered), but it is certainly the most massive. The largest tree, named General Sherman, is almost 275 feet tall with a circumference of 103 feet at the base. The tree has been estimated to weigh nearly 1,400 tons and to contain enough timber to build 120 average-sized houses. It is believed to be around 2,100 years old.
Bristlecone pines (Pinus longaeva)
These trees are found in California, Nevada, and Utah. Some in California’s White Mountains are more than 4,500 years old. The oldest-known living bristlecone pine is more than 4,700 years old.
Creosote bush (Larrea tridentata)
This flowering shrub in the Mojave Desert is characterized by an unusual circular growth pattern. Each giant ring of shrubs comes from its own ancestral shrub that once grew in the center of the ring. Over time the original stem crown splits into sections that continue to grow outwardly away from the center, producing new branches along their outer edge. The center wood dies and rots away over thousands of years, leaving a barren center surrounded by a ring of shrubs. One of the oldest shrub rings, which is 50 feet in diameter, is estimated to be 12,000 years old.
Oldest Germinated Seed
The record for the oldest seed successfully germinated has been the subject of several reports. The seed of a date palm (Phoenix dactylifera) was discovered during an excavation at King Herod’s Palace on Mount Masada near the Dead Sea. This ancient seed was carbon dated at about 2,000 years old; the palm that sprouted from it was nicknamed “Methuselah.” Another seed was successfully germinated after about 1,200 years: an Asian water lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) found in China. Possibly beating them all, however, is the seed of an Arctic lupine (Lupinus arcticus), excavated from a lemming burrow in frozen Arctic tundra and germinated after an estimated 10,000 years of dormancy.
Oldest Living Fossil
Ginkgo (or maidenhair tree)
Ancestors of this plant lived when dinosaurs roamed Earth and it still lives on Earth today. Leaf imprints of the ancestral species of Ginkgo, which resemble the modern Ginkgo biloba, have been found in sedimentary rocks of the Jurassic and Triassic Periods (135–210 million years ago).
Most Poisonous Plant
Several plants vie for this title. The water hemlock is often described as the most violently toxic plant in the Northern Hemisphere. A piece of root the size of a little finger could easily kill a person. Aconite, also known as monkshood or wolfsbane, is the most poisonous plant in Europe. The castor bean plant, used to obtain castor oil, contains ricin, which is lethal to humans (although the oil is not). A single seed can kill. And a single bean from the rosary pea is equally lethal.
Titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum)
Originating in the tropical rain forests of Sumatra, Indonesia, the Titan arum stinks! This huge and extremely rare flower is a giant lily. It seldom blooms, but when it does the smell is revolting, described as something like the dead carcass of an animal. Not surprisingly, the titan arum is also known as the corpse flower. When it does bloom, which can take six years or more, the flower only lasts about three days before it begins to wilt.