They're weird! Wacky! Wonderful! One of Fall's garden pleasures is the appearance of all manner of strange looking seed pods, each one fully freighted with the results of a flower's season-long labor. Seeds, after all, are what it's all about. The production of functional seed rather than frilly flower is what rules the plant kingdom. And some plants prep their seeds with flair, creating a vehicle to nurture embryonic seeds until they ripen and are ready to burst forth to usher in a new cycle of growth. Here are a few of my favorites.
Two annuals, at least they are annuals for me, Begonia 'Bonfire' and Golden Jewels of Opar (Talinum paniculatum 'Kingwood Gold') create a dynamic pairing by late September. The Jewel's tiny orbs and the Begonia's maplelike winged pods have been performing their duet for more than a month now. I'm still not tired of the intriguing contrast they make.
Bed of Nails (Solanum quitoense) is grown--when it's grown at all-for the freakish splendor of its big, big, thorn-studded, purple-befuzzed leaves. But its also boasts a singular-looking seedpod, sized somewhere between a ping pong ball and tennis ball and covered with downy fuzz. I'm not exactly sure, botanically, when a seed pod becomes a fruit, but the orbs on this plant are also prized for their ambrosial juice, much prized in parts of Latin America. Though they never fully ripen here, I always like seeing the pods, which lie tantalizingly hidden beneath the cover of this tomato relative's big leaves.
I grow castor beans (Ricinus communis) for their big leaves too, but I'm not about to ignore their threatening-looking, spiky Sci-Fi seedpods. These glossy red stars appear on a castor bean that s been self sowing in my yard for years. It's a giant plant--12-15 feet tall, with burgundy leaves and these lurid looking pods. Hope to see it again next year.
Sweet hibiscus (Abelmoschus manihot) is another annual with lot going for it: Gorgeous hand-shaped leaves 12-15 inches or so across, elegant stature-to 6 or 7 feet, glorious primrose yellow flowers in late summer (a pale pastel hue not usually seen in the summer garden), and then these neat fuzzy seed pods shaped like a flower bud. Fun!
Yellow wax bells (Kirengeshoma palmata) is a choice woodland-edge perennial with the stature of a shrub. It takes a few years to reach impressive size but it's worth waiting for. It's beautiful foliage makes it a fine companion for hydrangeas and ferns. It also bears late season flowers, which are kind of a tease, since they never fully open. But then come these weird winged seedpods, which look like little flying saucers ready to take off. In a way that's what they are. Destination: next year's garden.
Last but certainly not least are the malevolent looking pods of white devil's trumpet (Datura metel 'Belle Blanche'). I grow these plants as annuals though in a very mild winter they reappear in spring. And the reason I grow them is for their evening fragrant, moonlight-white goblet-shaped flowers. They also have neat, downy, silvery green foliage. And of course these dangerous looking seed pods which have evolved, I figure, to ward off vegetation eating critters and buy enough time for the seeds to fully ripen. They sure don't ward off observers though.