Passionflower, or Passiflora, actually names a genus of around 500 species of flowering vines. The purple passionflower is probably the best-known, and arguably the most beautiful. With its sophisticated and somewhat bizarre-looking inner structure, the Passionflower is so called because in Christian lore the various flower parts map onto specific symbols and elements of the Passion narrative. The 10 petal-like parts toward the center are thought to represent Jesus’ ten disciples, with the exclusion of Peter and Judas. The five stamens represent the five wounds he received; the stigmas represent the nails, and the stringy petal-like structures making up the flower’s crown symbolize the crown of thorns. Passionflower is native to the southeastern United States, but can be found as far north as Pennsylvania.
Coveted the world over, the “Bird of Paradise”, or Strelizia, is native to South Africa. The Bird of Paradise is easily one of the most recognizable exotic flowers, with its conspicuous orange and purple petals which jut out in all directions. This beautiful flower is named after the birds of the same name which inhabit the islands of Papua New Guinea, and which they are said to resemble.
This elegant heart-shaped flower is native to Japan, Korea, Siberia and northern China. It usually appears in a deep pink hue, with a small white petal descending from the pink “heart.” The flowers are pendant flowers, meaning that they hang or dangle from a central stem. Take in the splendor of this spring beauty while you can – it quickly disappears and the plant is reduced only to its roots come midsummer.
Native to the tropical forests of southern Asia, this spotted orchid blooms in shades of white, burgundy and yellow and is a favorite among orchid growers and collectors. It is fairly easy to cultivate and has been introduced into many different habitats across the globe. A glance at the structure of the flower leaves no mystery as to how this exotic orchid got its name.
While it may not be typically beautiful, the King Protea is certainly a sight to behold. A pretty bizarre-looking flower, the protea is native to South Africa and among the hardiest blooms on our list. The King Protea has the largest flower head in the Protea genus, with blooms reaching nearly a foot in diameter. It can be found in shades of cream, deep red and pale pink.
This member of the Heliconia family is native to Central and South America, with each of its bracts (or, modified leaves) resembling a lobster claw or parrot’s beak. Yellow flowers emerge from the bracts during the blooming season, generally mid to late spring. Like the bleeding heart, the Lobster Claws are pendant flowers, which hang from a central stem.
This striking blue flower is also known as the Egyptian Water Lily, blooms in an almost unnatural-looking shade of silvery purple-blue. A deep yellow center offsets the spiky blue petals beautifully. This aquatic flower is native to Egypt and is thought to have only grown along the Nile, originally. However, historical records seem to indicate that it had already spread to parts of Thailand and India during ancient times.
Not to be confused with licorice, Lycoris names a genus of 13-20 species of flowering plants native to southern and eastern Asia. The flowers often have slender, highly arched petals and appear in shades of orange, red, white and yellow. Although they are native to Asia, don’t be surprised if you spot one of these attractive flowers in meadows of North Carolina. They now grow wild there, having been imported sometime in the 1940’s.
Don’t let your eyes fool you! This unique flower bears an uncanny resemblance to a small purple-hued parrot or cockatoo in flight, especially when seen from far away. It is native to northern Thailand, northern India and Myanmar. Despite some attempts, this magnificent plant remains basically impossible to cultivate. Reaching six feet high, it requires lots of space to spread out and tropical rainforest conditions to thrive. Growing conditions aside, bag of Parrot Flower seeds may sell for up to $8000 a pop. If you’d still like to try your hand at cultivation, knock yourself out.
The Flowering Banana, Musa ornata, grows up to ten feet tall, producing a prominent purple-pink spike-shaped flower. It is native to Burma, Bangladesh and India, but has been introduced into such far-flung places as Mexico and South and Central America. The male flower bud is edible and can be used in salads while, interestingly, the fruit itself is inedible. The Flowering Banana is mainly grown for ornamental purposes, and its stunning magenta and orange blooms leave no mystery as to why this is true.