Frida Kahlo once said, “I paint flowers so they will not die.” Perhaps we can all relate to the desire to hold onto beauty in some form that might last for eternity. However, we find ourselves in a dilemma: Aren’t flowers so beautiful precisely because they’re ephemeral? And isn’t it the rarity of nature’s gifts that make them so cherished when they enter our lives?
Botanists, horticulturalists, and home gardeners the world over have searched for rare flowers to cultivate, admire, and describe. A number of these plants require such specific conditions to thrive that cultivation proves nearly impossible. For that reason, many of these plants are a seldom sight to behold, in the wild or otherwise.
The Jade vine is an endangered woody vine indigenous to the rainforests of the Philippines. Jade vine, or Tayabak in local dialect, is related to pea and bean plants, but the crimped blue flowers draped from its trusses more resemble the frills of an ornate ball gown. The plant grows alongside streams, damp forests and ravines and can reach heights of three meters. The plant has been difficult to propagate, as its primary pollinator is a species of bat that hangs from the clusters, leading to its rarity elsewhere in the world. The plants also attract large numbers of butterfly species.
The ghost orchid is a perennial orchid native to Florida, Cuba and the Bahamas. It derives its name from the otherworldly appearance of its petals, folded slivers that form the silhouette of a wisp or a star. Its sparse distribution, like a number of rare flowers, stems from the specificity of its pollinator: the sphinx moth with its long proboscis. The flowers emanate a fruity aroma, strongest near dawn, and are rare in their biology as well as their numbers. The ghost orchid’s leaves have evolved into vestigial scales that do not photosynthesize. It is actually the roots of the plant, spread across tree trunks, that generate its energy. The white track marks along the plant are believed to be another unique adaptation to facilitate root photosynthesis. It is extremely difficult to cultivate the plants outside of their natural habitat.
The chocolate cosmos seems like something you’d find in a French bakery, resembling an elaborate cocoa truffle with a decadent scent of vanilla. Though the plant has commonly been claimed to be extinct in the wild, existing only as an infertile clone, it still thrives in its sole habitat in the Mexican countryside. The flower blooms from summer to early autumn and is possible to cultivate at home, though indoor growing can lead to overwintering. The scent and appearance of the flower make it a cherished ornament and a rare cut flower for decorative use.
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
The desert bloom is rare not for the varieties of flowers in its fields, but for the brief flashes with which it breathes out into the arid skies. The ideal conditions of desert blooms are warm winds in the wake of heavy rain. The most recent uncharacteristic rainy winter of Southern California coupled with the El Nino winds has led to a “super bloom” in the Anza-Borrego Desert Park near Julian. Though this is the second year in a row to see a super bloom in Anza-Borrego, the last event preceding 2017 was nine years prior, in 2008. If you arrive at the right time of year, you might be able to catch a glimpse of this rare treat. But if you end up missing it, take heart knowing that this occurrence will certainly happen again.