History, art and cultureFamily friendly
Matthew Pearson

Kew Gardens: Plant and Flower Facts

To celebrate the fact that you can get into Kew Gardens for absolutely diddly squat with The London Pass, we thought we’d arm you with some fantastic plant and flower facts. The kind of facts to impress anyone who happens to be joining you on your visit. Or a stranger. Or the trees themselves. Including...

  • Which plant gives off a flammable vapour that smells like lemons?
  • How many plants are edible for humans?
  • How tall is the tallest tree in the world?

Now that we've got your attention, here are the facts...

Plant and Flower Facts

Bamboo takes the title as the Fastest Growing Woody Plant on the Planet. It can grow by as much as 90cm a day. At 2,200,000 Scoville Heat Units (the measurement for spiciness), the world’s hottest chilli pepper, the Carolina Reaper, is 200x hotter than a Jalapeño. A cross between a Ghost Pepper and a Red Habanero, the Carolina Reaper has been bred for heat, although it also has a certain fruitiness to it too...allegedly. Never had one, never will.

Thought to be the largest carnivorous plant on the planet, the nepenthes rajah drowns small mammals, including rats, in its pitcher trap. It then breaks down its catch and digests its prey. But the most famous carnivorous plant in the world is surely still the Venus flytrap. The Venus flytrap catches its arachnid and insect prey by closing its jaw-like trap around them once they step inside, setting off a hair trigger. What constitutes a nice smell or a bed smell is, of course, subjective. But the flower constantly labelled the ‘Worst Smelling Flower in the World’ is the titan arum, also known as the Corpse Flower. It has gained this name because its scent resembles the rotting corpses of animals. It chooses to adopt this particular odour because its main pollinators are flies and beetles that choose to lay their eggs in dead animals. So blame them. Luckily for those in the immediate vicinity, the Corpse Flower only blooms for between 24 and 48 hours every four to six years. Guess what the longest living organisms on earth are. Trees! There’s a Great Basin bristlecone pine in the White Mountains of California which is 4,850 years old. Its name? Methuselah. However, the oldest known tree in the world is another bristlecone pine which is in the same place, but doesn’t have a name yet. Bristlecone pines are known for being resilient to bad weather and bad soil. They make very polite house guests as a result. A herb is always the leaf of a plant. A spice is derived from a plant’s seed, stem, bark, root, bulb or berry. The tallest tree in the world is a Coast redwood called Hyperion. Cool name, bro. It is 115.92 metres tall (380.3 ft) and lives in the Redwood National Park in California. A strawberry has, on average 200 seeds. Unlike all other fruit, they are located on the outside. Sunflowers may look like just the one flower, but they’re actually hundreds of tiny flowers called florets, all grouped together, which ripen into seeds. Like kids standing on each other’s shoulders under a big coat to get into an 18.

Sugar cane is a type of grass. It was first refined in the Indus Valley of north-west India around 5,000 years ago. It didn’t travel west until the eighth century AD. Today, Brazil is the largest exporter of sugar in the world, responsible for around 40 percent of the world’s sugar, producing 42 million tons a year. Sweet. The first ever certified botanical garden was founded in Vatican City by Pope Nicholas. That was way back in 1278 AD. The Atlantic Giant Pumpkin is the heaviest and largest fruit on planet earth. The current record holder was grown by Beni Meier. It weighed 1054 kg. There are around 400,000 species of flower, divided into over 450 different families. Snowdrops are among the first flowers to grow and bloom during British springtime. If you take a close look at the tips of their leaves, you’ll see that they have a small protective shield. This hardened area allows the snowdrop to push up through frozen, hard soil. Julius Caesar described in 54 BC how British warriors used a dye from woad leaves to stain themselves blue. Hundreds of years later, the same dye was used for British police uniforms, a practice which only stopped in 1932.

The Gas Plant, or Burning Bush, gives off a vapour which smells strongly of lemon. It gains its name because, when the conditions are right, this vapour sets on fire when met with a match. Ancient Egyptians considered lotus flowers to be sacred and often used them in burial rituals and funereal rites. Blooming in damp wetlands, the lotus is able to remain dormant though alive for many years when there’s a drought. When it rains once more, the flowers return. As such, they became symbols of resurrection and life after death. Established contrarian the Moon Flower only blooms at night. It closes as soon as it comes into contact with the sun in the morning. It also likes listening to emotional rock music and wearing black eyeliner. The world’s smallest flowering plant is wolffia globosa, a type of duckweed often called watermeal. It looks like cornmeal. It also produces the smallest fruit in the world, its utricle. The plants have no roots, so they sit on the surface of the water. The plant is around a third of an inch big, and its fruit is between 0.7 and 1.5 millimetres across. They taste a bit like watercress. Packed full of protein, expect them to become a faddy food before too long. Currently, it's South East Asian countries that cultivate and consume watermeal. Abraham Lincoln’s mother, Nancy Hanks, died as a result of poisoning by white snakeroot. The North American herb contains a toxic alcohol called trematol. Tragically, Nancy Hanks drank milk from a cow which had been grazing on the plant. Around 20,000 species of plant are edible for humans. However, just 20 different species provide 90% of our food. Turns out we’re all fussy eaters. Now you'll be heading to Kew Gardens with a few facts up your sleeve. Don't forget that entry to Kew Gardens is included with The London Pass. We hate to cast aspersions regarding your love for the natural world, but figured you would like to read this.

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