Although the ubiquitous orange carrot is actually the result of a mutation – most carrots were originally white, or sometimes purple – there are quite a few other interesting facts in the wonderland that is the world of plants. Strawberries are a rarity among fruit, with their seeds on the outside, and a single Corpse Lily flower can weigh over 20 lbs!
Due to the protein miraculin, the miracle fruit (Synsepalum dulcificum), causes sour foods like limes and lemons, to taste sweet. And although the Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) is infamous for tricking insects by inviting them to dinner then having the insects for dinner, the Amazon giant water lily (Victoria amazonica) traps bugs only for pollination, but with a twist. The flowers are ‘female’ during the night, emitting a scent attractive to insects, but once the insects are inside, the flowers close until daytime when the flowers become ‘male’ and then the insects are released.
Carrion flower (Stapelia gigantea) smells like rotting meat to attract pollinating flies, but its star-shaped blooms are as soft as freshly spun silk. Solomon’s Lily (Arum palaestinum) smells like rotting fruit to attract flies which are essential for pollination, trapping the unsuspecting insects for several hours so that they become covered in pollen before releasing them.
Another ‘offensive’ plant, durian (Durio zibethinus), has a fruit that is so odorific, in Singapore it is banned from some public buildings. Many have described the odor as similar to rotting onions, but it has a high vitamin C and B6 content. Also on the list of plant offenders is the manchineel tree (Hippomane mancinella); the fruit is extremely poisonous, and dripping sap from the tree can cause caustic skin reactions, prompting warnings signs instructing unsuspecting humans not to shelter from rain-storms under the tree.
Wondrous Plant Wonderland
The oldest plant on Earth is a bristlecone pine estimated to be over 5000 years old. The tallest plant is recorded as a giant sequoia (Sequoia sempervirens) at over 370 ft., and the largest plant is the clonal aspen ‘Pando’ (Populus tremuloides), estimated to be more than 106 acres wide.
And with up to 40% of the world’s medicines attributed to phytochemicals derived from plants, it is quite probable that Alice also encountered some similarly wondrous plants during her adventures in Wonderland!