Santa Barbara's Moreton Bay fig tree is a legend. It is the largest in the country—the tree's circumference is 42 feet, its height is twice that, and the canopy spans almost 200 feet—in fact, it even has its own address.
One of our most popular botanic superlative columns was about the seed of the coco-de-mer (The Largest Seed), which, according to the British tabloids, was a honeymoon souvenir for Prince William and his new bride, Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, from their time in the Seychelles Islands. After all, who doesn't want a giant, bottom-like nut for their new house?
The discovery of the world's smallest orchid is, fittingly, the story of an intrepid explorer, an enigmatic flower, and the curious luck that brought them together. All but transparent, the flower's petals are one-cell thick, and its blossom is just 2.1 mm wide from tip to tip.
Keeping a close eye on her developing progeny, this Kalanchoe succulent, nicknamed "the mother-of-thousands" is as prolific as it is maternal—hundreds of tiny plants actually grow on the mother's arms. When released, each plantlet falls to the ground to take root on its own—now the next "mother" in the lineage, never too far from home.
In 2008, a rare and unusual palm was discovered in remote Madagascar. Hailed as the most important new species of its kind, the tree made headline news—not for its notable survival, but for its spectacular demise. If the Tahina spectabilis had an epitaph, it would read "The gigantic palm that flowered itself to death."
Faster than a speeding bullet! The Bunchberry dogwood is able to launch pollen into the air in a third of the time it takes a bullet to leave a rifle barrel, making the plant (Cornus canadensis) a superlative example of botanic ballistics, engineering, and reproductive design.
The bewitching fragrance of jasmine vines is a difficult-to-bottle scent. Capturing jasmine's essence is considered a superlative feat of aromatic alchemy, which is why jasmine is an ingredient in some of the world's most expensive perfumes.
An aspen forest in Utah could be awarded 47,000 blue ribbons that read "World's Largest Tree." That's the number of discrete tree stems that constitute Pando (Latin for "I spread"), a colony of genetically identical aspens that converge underground in a single sprawling root system. Also known as The Trembling Giant, the trees' fluttering leaves are a soft soundtrack in the forest.
In a small corner of western Poland, a forest of about 400 pine trees all grow with a 90 degree bend at the base of the trunks. For lack of a scientific name, the collection of curved trees is known as The Crooked Forest.