It cannot be denied that the closer a human being comes into proximity with a plant, the more unlovely and unsettling the plant becomes. This is why it is impossible to trust anyone who owns houseplants; they are unstable and untrustworthy people, and there is something eldritch hiding just behind their faces. Plants are a parody of sentience. They sway passively in the wind while emitting secret poisons and secretly burrowing roots downward to hold the sweet earth captive in their clenched, woody fists.
While all plants are unwholesome and wrong in their own way, I have confined myself here to the sort of plants an average resident of North America might encounter in the course of an ordinary day. Mangrove trees and corpse flowers may be mangled presents flung up from the belly of the steaming earth by the devil himself, but most of us are blessedly free from coming across them on our way to work. Here, then, in no particular order, are eleven of the worst plants in the world.
A sunflower is, for reasons that are totally opaque to me, generally associated with sunshine and openness and loveliness, much in the same way that butterflies are often mistaken for something beautiful. Have you ever looked at a butterfly? Leave the wings out of it; it is a wretched and a hairy and a twitching body with too many darting legs and antennae whizzing out of its thorax, just like any other bug. A sunflower is too big and heavy by half. It looks like the severed head of a blonde man. No plant should contain so much mass. The stem is fuzzy, which is disgusting, the central cluster is a hypnotizing clot of spirals that resembles the Eye of Sauron vainly attempting to look cheerful. It’s thick and sinister, but tries to disguise itself as something pleasing to the eye, like a dead woman whose smiling mouth is a jagged slash of blood and lipstick. I do not accept your false and charmless attempts at levity. You are a bad plant, and you have no right to grow as tall as you do. I am a human; I stand above you on the food chain. How dare you grow as tall as me.
2. Australian Palm Trees
Your precious palm trees are not safe here. I will freely admit that there are several varieties of palm tree I find wholly unobjectionable, even enjoyable to look at. But the Australian palm tree resembles nothing so much as a squat, frond-feathered tarantula hulking atop a pole waiting to strike. It is beastly. Perhaps the worst tendency of any tree is the palm tree’s inability to simply shed its fronds in a normal fashion; instead the bottom layer withers and frays into a brown corpse, then sags lower and lower to the ground until the trunk itself is nearly obscured from view, like Miss Havisham wrapped in her ancient wedding ground, in a mockery of fertility, of growth, of life itself.
Utterly, utterly loathsome. Why is the bottom a hazardous nest of spikes and sticks, while the top is a nauseating puff of white fuzz? Whither so tall? What colors run riot here? Sickly facsimiles of green, pungent half-dead attempts at brown. This is a corpse attempting to revive itself. I would take a flamethrower to the entire San Joaquin valley if I could rid the country of them.
4. Tree Cholla cactus
MOLD. MOLD. MOLD. IT IS A CACTUS WRAPPED IN MOLD SPEWING ITSELF FORTH FROM THE DIRT. KILL IT KILL IT KILL IT.
5. Trailing succulents
All succulents are an abomination. Fat, thick, loathsome, fuzz-ridden mockeries of everything that a true plant out to be. They put one in mind of The Island of Dr. Moreau, caught horribly between plant and beast. This variety, however, is particularly disgusting; you have seen them in the kind of home that is coated in dust and has the wrong brand of cheese. They squat gleefully in white pots suspended from the ceiling, and they slope gently downards towards the floor. They are trying to escape.
6. Queen Anne’s Lace
Let us hate Queen Anne’s Lace from two different angles. From above:
No woman, I can assure you, has ever happily received a carnation as either a corsage or as part of a bouquet. It has confirmed for her every doubt she ever had about you. “A carnation,” she says brightly, while in her head she has already left you for another. I will not insult you by going into details. If you cannot immediately guess why carnations are unbearable, there is no hope for you.
8. Arrowhead vine
Thick and glossy and malicious; this is a parody of a plant. It looks like it’s so thick it would not catch on fire if you struck it with a match. Why is it so sticky-shiny? Why do the fronds cluster together so? Why does it collect dust? What lurks within its vegetative heart? Why do the fans look like Peter Pan hats? No, this must not be.
9. Bird of Paradise
I might object less to Birds of Paradise plants if they did not always insist in arranging their features to resemble a pelican in the act of horribly gulping some resistant, still-flopping fish. I find it deeply unsettling. Also, the tips of the flowers are always dying, like an incense stick that has just been lit. Gulp elsewhere, you garish fiend.
This is, I promise you, absolutely seething with spiders. The odd, almost imperceptible rustling you hear every time you walk past one of these is the sound of ten thousand thousand baby spiders locked together in a clot uncoiling themselves and scuttling to horrible, desperate freedom. You may not be able to see them, but they are always there. Always.
11. Joshua Trees
The gnarled, arthritic hands of witches who have been captured and buried face-up in the earth (but it’s the ones who have been buried face-down that you really have to worry about).
[Images via Wikimedia Commons]
Mallory is an Editor of The Toast.