In South Africa's coastal grasslands, to explore a forest is to walk along its canopy—indeed, it's the only way to observe an extraordinary group of so-called underground trees, where only the uppermost leaves and branches are visible. Tucked away and protected from so many environmental threats, they underground forests are considered all but immortal, with estimated ages of 13,000 years or more.
We've all seen neat tree houses, but did you know that there's a tree church? In France, the Chêne Chappelle (Chapel Oak) is 800 years old, houses two tiny chapels in its hollow trunk, and was said to have been visited by William the Conqueror himself.
The dandelion is a flower of medieval legend and contemporary ignominy. It is also a master of survival. A profile of the unpopular flower may seem blasphemous, but, in the garden it is best to know your enemy.
A desert plant, the Welwitschia mirabilis is beloved among botanists who seek the very old and the very strange. It's a living fossil that survives in the desert, neither a typical succulent or a cactus, and neither a shrub nor a bush. It has been named a dwarf tree, and a director of the Royal Botanic Gardens once described it as "the most wonderful plant ever brought to this country, and the very ugliest."
The leaves reach nine feet (almost three meters); its nocturnal blossoms are white with the first moon, and pink with the second, with a sweet aroma that will fill the night. Victoria water lilies (Victoria amazonica) are the largest in the world, and have been marveled at since first discovered in 1801.
Mimosa pudica, or the bashful plant, is the introvert of the garden, yet, with a coy choreography that is curiously beautiful, it is impossible not to touch, and has fascinated botanists for centuries. At a light caress, its fern-like leaves will fold inward; a gentle thrust will collapse the petiole.