Sunflowers can grow remarkably fast, and incredibly tall. Young gardeners, unwitting cultivators, and casual competitors have all planted extraordinary sunflowers—here's a look at some of the tallest (and the craziest, including one with 104 flower heads!).
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.
A physician by trade, botanic enthusiast, and accidental inventor, Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward devised the first terrarium in 1829, and thereby launched a new age of horticultural possibilities—where ferns and mosses would grow indoors, and tropical exotics would travel the world.
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.
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.