Review of Bizarre Botanicals by Larry Mellichamp and Paula Gross

61vAA-B8KXL._SX407_BO1,204,203,200_Bizarre Botanicals:

How to Grow String-of Hearts, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Panda Ginger, and Other Weird and Wonderful Plants

Larry Mellichamp and Paula Gross


Reviewed by Caroline McCullagh



I just happened to drop by a bookstore, and I just happened to be walking down the aisle by the garden books, when a book called my name. Really. Truly. That’s the way it happened. I wouldn’t have bought this book otherwise. Would I lie to you?

This book is just plain fun. Part of the fun is that some of the plants the authors mention, we already have in our gardens—mother ferns, staghorns, Dutchman’s pipe, passion flowers, and others—so we get to feel a little superior that someone would think what we have in our gardens is worth writing about.

But then there are the other plants, plants I would never have imagined. Have you ever heard of the blue oil fern (Microsorum thailandicum)? Neither had I. Its strappy (not ferny) leaves are a rich iridescent cobalt blue. Looking at the photo, all I can say is “Wow!”

What about clubmoss (Lycopodium)? Do you remember seeing photos of old-time photographers who held up a tray of flash powder to illuminate the scene they were photographing? That flash powder was made up of the explosive spores of Lycopodium.

How about the black bat plant (Tacca chantrieri)? It puts out clusters of shiny black fruit that looks very much like sleeping bats.

Many of the plants are bizarre in their looks; some are in their behavior. For example, spear sansevieria (Sansevieria cylindrica). Its erect cylindrical leaves look more like stems, but the stems actually grow underground as rhizomes.

Have I tempted you yet? There’s a lot more where that came from. This book will not disappoint you.

The authors have a breezy, accessible style that adds to the pleasure of the book, and we can even forgive their occasional puns. And this is a practical book. Besides the 114 knock-your-socks-off color photos, they give you growing characteristics and tips on light required, hardiness, moisture required, and growing medium. They also rate each plant on a scale of one-to-three on how difficult it is to grow. They’re gardening in North Carolina, however, so some plants that are difficult for them grow easily for us.

Bizarre Botanicals is published by Timber Press. I haven’t looked at their catalog in a while, but I will, to see what other treasures I can find for you. The book is hardbound and 283 pages. It covers 78 plants, and includes a hardiness zone chart, bibliography, and index. I went on line to see what others are saying about it. One reader gave it a low rating. He bought it to learn how to grow tillandsias, and this book had nary a one. He warned you against buying it, proof positive that there are as many weird people in the world as there are plants. I recommend it to you. You’ll enjoy it.


Caroline McCullagh’s Book Reviews come from recent issues of Let’s Talk Plants from the San Diego Horticultural Society at and Page Turners from the American Mensa Bulletin available at  Reviews appear every 4 days on