6 Otherworldly Plants to Spot in the Peruvian Amazon

2 months ago Amazon

Visitors to the wildly biodiverse Amazon jungle can feel like they’ve landed on another planet, with species of native plant life resembling props from a sci-fi movie. Think flowers that look like lobster claws, carnivorous plants, and towering trees covered in venomous spikes. Here are six otherworldly plants to spot on your next journey on board Aqua Expeditions’ Amazon river cruises

 

1. Heliconia

 

heliconia

 

Nearly two hundred species of the Heliconia flower exist in the world with most being native to the tropical forests of Central and South America. Its name hails from the Greek mountain, Helicon which was believed to be the home of the Muses, goddesses of the arts and sciences.

 

This oddly shaped tropical plant looks like a lobster claw and is sometimes referred to as a “parrot flower,” thanks to its beak-like leaf (or bracts) structure. Its vibrant colors are easy to spot in the khaki hues of the rainforest – ranging from red and yellow, to purple, pinks, and greens. 

 

The Heliconia is an important Amazonian plant, providing nectar to hummingbirds and butterflies, as well as hosting miniscule aquatic organisms which survive in water collected in the plant’s stems. 

 

2. Passionflower (Passiflora) 

 

passionflower

 

The Passionflower is a photogenic climbing vine, adorned with an elaborate spiky flower that European Jesuit missionaries compared to the crown of thorns worn by Jesus during his crucifixion (The Passion of Christ). 

 

Ranging in color from purple to white and ruby red, the Passionflower is also known for its medicinal properties. Once used by native people as a sedative, it’s now promoted as a herbal supplement for mild anxiety and sleep problems. 

 

Mostly pollinated by insects, there is one white Passionflower species that blooms at night and is nocturnally pollinated by bats. Why is it white? Because no bright color is needed to attract pollinators in the dark.

 

3. Monkey Brush (Combretum rotundifolium)

 

monkey brush

 

Native to South America, the Monkey Brush derives its name from its vivid, spiky yellow-red inflorescence. A parasitic plant, the Monkey Brush can be seen climbing other plants and trees to acquire their nutrients. 

 

Hummingbirds and bananaquit birds like to feed on its fruit, while the Green Iguana and Monkey Lizard can be spotted lazing in its branches. 

 

4. Kapok tree (Ceiba pentandra)

 

kapok tree

 

The towering Kapok tree is a fast-growing wonder of the rainforest, rising to heights of more than 165ft (50mt). Considered sacred by the Aztec and Mayan cultures, the Kapok was thought to be the link between the living world and the underworld. Distinctive protruding thorns on its trunk and branches (grown to defend against strangler figs) can be seen as a motif in ancient Mayan artwork such as funeral urns and pottery. 

 

The Kapok’s seed pods also contain a lightweight fiber or floss, similar to cotton, which is cultivated in Asia and used for stuffing and insulation. The Kapok’s timber is still used to manufacture paper and other wood products and traditionally was carved into canoes by the local people. 

 

5. Pitcher plant (Nepenthes)

 

pitcher plant

 

The deadly Pitcher plant is an infamous carnivorous plant, found in the Amazon rainforest. Also known as ‘monkey cups’ this cleverly designed plant lures its prey (usually insects, but sometimes larger prey) with a sweet nectar on the underside of its lid. The target then slips down the Pitcher’s steep leaves into a pool of liquid at the bottom. Here, they are trapped and eventually digested by the plant’s enzymes.

 

6. The Corpse Flower (Amorphophallus Titanum)

 

corpse flower

 

The world’s most eye-watering flower can be found in the Amazon. The Corpse Flower can reach a massive ten feet tall (3m) and is known for its truly revolting stench – when in bloom, it mimics the smell of a decomposing corpse. 

 

Don’t stop and smell the roses with this flower! The plant’s odious perfume only wafts a few times every year or two, when the flower is hoping to attract carrion beetles and flesh flies; pollinators who are drawn to the powerful odor of rotting meat. 

 

The Amazon is a rich treasure trove of biodiversity, with 80,000 plant species making their home in its verdant rainforests. Explore the Amazon’s green side aboard Aqua Expeditions’ luxury river ships, Aria Amazon and Aqua Nera.