Countdown to Tatton RHS '09: Stinky Squid or Monkey Cups? | Knutsford Times

Countdown to Tatton RHS '09: Stinky Squid or Monkey Cups?

By on June 19, 2009

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder at the RHS Show Tatton Park, as a search begins to find The World’s Ugliest Plant to take centre stage at the summer event (22-26 July).

The RHS’s horticultural experts have scoured the planet to produce a list of the 10 most aesthetically challenging specimens to be found. 

The attributes of the shortlist span the spectrum from the spikey to the downright hairy and originate from across the continents.  Given the extreme conditions that many of them exist in, facing intense temperatures and humidity, it’s perhaps understandable that practicality sometimes prevails over aesthetics.

As well as lucking out in the looks stakes, the frightful flora have also been handed the short straw when it comes to their names. Stinky Squid, Bastard Cobas, Monkey Cups, Birthwort and Vegetable Sheep are all a world away from the poetic charms of the lily, iris or rose.

However, as the saying goes, one man’s pleasure is another man’s poison, so the RHS is also keen to discover those with a soft spot for these objectionable plants. 

With one of the line-up able to live for over 1,000 years (Tree Tumbo), it might be staying power that impresses.  Or perhaps other credentials, such as the Corpse Flower’s aphrodisiac properties or the Thorn of the Cross’ lush fragrance, is what causes some people to champion these ‘uglies’.

To vote in the RHS’s survey to find The World’s Ugliest Plant and to make your comments on the ugly plants you love, visit

It is hoped the winning plant will make a guest appearance at the RHS Show Tatton Park (22-26 July 2009).

Show manager for Tatton, Kris Hulewicz, says: “An RHS show is a spectacle of horticulture, where visitors can see their favourite plants and learn more about some of the more unusual specimens – whatever they may look like!  Gardening is about much more than ‘pretty flowers’ and that is certainly true as the quest to identify The World’s Ugliest Plant will demonstrate.”

The RHS Show Tatton Park takes place between 22 and 26 July 2009, with 22 July reserved for RHS members. Tickets are priced from £19 for RHS members and £22 for public tickets in advance. To book or to find out more call 0844 209 0363 or visit

Ugly Flower Short list

ugly_corpse.jpgCorpse Flower (Amorphophallus titanum)
This ugly has all the attributes: looks, wow factor and a name to die for.  Within its 40 year life expectancy it will bloom every 4 to 6 years producing one of the largest flowers in the world, reaching heights of 5ft and widths of 4ft. The flower emits a smell that is described as rotting flesh, and yet the plant is also known as an aphrodisiac! Found: Indonesia.

ugly_trumbo.jpgTree Tumbo (Welwitschia mirabilis)
The oldest plant on the list, with some estimated to be over 1,000 and possibly up to 5,000 years old, the Tree Tumbo is in fact considered to be a living fossil.  Amazingly it only ever has two leaves, each of which can be over 8 metres long.  This time-defying species can survive temperatures of up to 65°C. Found: South West Africa.

ugly_squid.jpgStinky Squid (Pseudocolus fusiformis)
Not strictly a plant, but a fungus worthy of a place in the vote. Stinky Squid’s body first resembles a puffball, which later splits open to form a stalk with arms to give it alien-like qualities. However, before you spot a Stinky Squid you are likely to be hit by the odour it emits, said to resemble the scent of rotting squid guts. Found: North America.

ugly_elephant.jpgElephant’s Trunk (Pachypodium namaquanum)
The Elephant’s Trunk makes it onto the list thanks to its thick trunk, densely covered in sharp spines. This prickly character is one of the few flowering specimens, with velvet textured blooms appearing from August to October. Found: the North Cape of Namibia.

ugly_bastard.jpgBastard Cobas (Cyphostemma juttae)
Despite its name, this is in fact considered an ornamental species.  And it’s not just its name that makes it stand out, but its height, with a full-grown plant standing 2 metres tall.  Winter is not a great time for the Bastard Cobas, when its large shiny leaves fall off, doing nothing to help its aesthetical appeal. Found: South Africa

ugly_sheep.jpgVegetable Sheep (Raoulia eximia)
Aptly named because of the way it looks from the distance, the grey-white mounds of the Vegetable Sheep can spread up to 5ft wide. The tiny leaves of this woolly wonder are covered in hairs, with flower heads that are buried beneath them. Found: Southern Alps and New Zealand.

ugly_cross.jpgThorn of The Cross (Colletia paradoxa)
The rather depressing flowers of the Thorn of The Cross make a short appearance between March and April.  However, this horticultural horror does have one redeeming feature, its fragrance, which is bizarrely reminiscent of custard. Found: South America.

ugly_birtworth.jpgBirthwort (Aristolochia gigantea)
Historically this plant has medical associations – the juice from the stem once being used to induce childbirth, helping to explain its name.  It’s not just for aesthetically challenging reasons that this plant stands out, with the scent of its flowers compared to the smell of rotting flesh. Found: Europe

ugly_monkey.jpgMonkey Cups (Nepenthes)
This carnivorous plant comes from a family of over 120 different species and is one of the few ‘uglies’ that you might be able to grow yourself under hothouse conditions.  Flies don’t stand a chance against this perfectly designed killing machine, which lures and traps prey with breathtaking precision. Found: South China, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.

ugly_seaonion.jpgClimbing Onion (Bowiea volubilis)
It’s a feat against nature that the branches of the climbing onion can stand so proud, with new branches appearing each year to give it the look of an elongated asparagus.  Found: South Africa.

If you think you have found an ugllier flower please contact us at

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