Top 10 Unique Plants

Want to add a little pizazz to your garden? These plants are nothing but ordinary and will surely add some excitement to your backyard with their bright colors and grand features.
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Photo: RDA GID

Amaranth

Just stopping short of pulling rabbits out of a hat, you'll be surprised how many spellbinding tricks this blooming beauty has up its velvety sleeves. Besides being spectacular in the backyard, amaranth's dangling flower clusters are perfect for autumn floral arrangements. The eye-catching blooming "ropes" become even more richly colored as they dry. And like magic...poof...amaranth will return next year for an encore performance.
  • Common Names: Amaranth, love-lies-bleeding, tassel flower.
  • Botanical Name: Amaranthus caudatus.
  • Hardiness: Zones 10 and 11; grow as an annual elsewhere.
  • Bloom Time: Summer to early autumn.
  • Size: 3 to 5 feet high, 1 to 2-1/2 feet wide.
  • Flowers: Shades of red, purple, and green form 18 to 24 inch cascading "ropes" of tiny flower clusters.
  • Light Needs: Full sun.
  • Growing Advice: Sow seeds in spring after the last frost. It will reseed year after year.
  • Prize Picks: It's fairly easy to find the "red" or "green" flowered ones in major seed catalogs. A named variety called Emerald Tassels is especially desirable for its lime-green blooms.

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Photo: RDA GID

Bear's breeches

Despite its strange name, the towering flower spikes and deeply lobed leaves are nothing less than statuesque. The stiff stance that makes it a must-have in the back of a garden is softened by its pastel palette.
The classic beauty of bear's breeches stands strong as a specimen (in the garden or in a large pot or urn), but it can be very dramatic when planted en masse.
  • Common Names: Bear's breeches.
  • Botanical Name: Acanthus.
  • Hardiness: Zones 7 to 10.
  • Bloom Time: Late spring to early summer.
  • Size: 3 to 4 feet high and wide.
  • Flowers: White, pink, and lilac.
  • Light Needs: Full sun to partial shade.
  • Growing Advice: Prune back in spring. Mulch in colder areas or shade in hotter areas.
  • Prize Picks: For rich, glossy blooms, choose Hollard's Gold (which gets its name from the distinctive color of its foliage). Summer Beauty is an especially heat-tolerant selection.

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Photo: RDA GID

Celosia

When it comes to blazing summertime color, few flowers can beat the heat of celosias. Blooming from mid-summer to frost, the brilliant flame-like colors and forms can really set the annual bed on fire.
Celosia is especially impressive in mass plantings or featured in a showy border. They grow well in areas that suffer the effects of the blazing summer sun, often thriving where other annuals fail. Just be sure to keep them out of the shade.
  • Common Names: Celosia, cockscomb.
  • Botanical Name: Celosia cristata.
  • Hardiness: Annual.
  • Bloom Time: Summer through fall.
  • Size: 6 to 30 inches high, 12 to 20 inches wide.
  • Flowers: Red, yellow, orange, gold, copper, cream, pink; crested types resemble a rooster's comb, while plumed varieties unfurl upright feathery flowers.
  • Light Needs: Full sun.
  • Growing Advice: After setting out the plumed varieties, pinch back tips to encourage branching and showier flowers.
  • Prize Picks: Outstanding plume-type selections are Fresh Look Red and Fresh Look Yellow. Prestige Scarlet grows 12 to 15 inches with red-crested flowers. Pink Castle has rose-pink spikes.

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Photo: Steve Lucas

Elephant's ear

For a touch of the tropics in your backyard, try elephant's ear. Its glossy green leaves are quite showy, attaining two feet across. The plant looks great adjacent to water features. No pond? Just be sure to keep the soil around elephant's ear moist, even wet-you can also accomplish this when growing it in a large pot or tub.
  • Common Names: Elephant's ear, taro.
  • Botanical Name: Colocasia esculenta.
  • Hardiness: Zones 9 to 10 (grown as annual elsewhere).
  • Bloom Time: Grown for foliage.
  • Size: 2 to 5 feet high, 4 feet wide.
  • Foliage: 2-foot green leaves.
  • Light Needs: Partial shade.
  • Growing Advice: Grow in a greenhouse where not hardy. Plant in moist to wet soil. Keep well watered when planting in well-drained soil.
  • Prize Picks: You'll love Black Magic's purple heart-shaped leaves. Handsome Illustris has blue-black leaves accented with thick green veins.

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Photo: RDA GID

Gunnera

This plant's foliage makes a BIG statement. Some varieties are taller than the average person, reaching heights of 10 feet with individual leaves stretching up to 6 feet across. The showy green foliage makes it a great addition to a bog garden and a perfect specimen plant along a pond.
  • Common Names: Gunnera, giant rhubarb.
  • Botanical Name: Gunnera manicata.
  • Hardiness: Zones 7 to 10.
  • Bloom Time: Grown for foliage.
  • Size: 6 to 10 feet high, 10 to 12 feet wide.
  • Foliage: Giant, up to 6 feet across; green.
  • Light Needs: Full sun to partial shade.
  • Growing Advice: Protect from harsh winds. Overwinter with mulch.

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Photo: RDA GID

Japanese painted fern

This fern's no shrinking violet, awarded Plant of the Year in 2004 from the Perennial Plant Association. You'll be a winner, too, with the low-maintenance color of Japanese painted fern. You'll notice that the color variations and intensity vary depending on how much sunlight your plant received-experiment until you find a spot where the results please you.
  • Common Names: Japanese painted fern.
  • Botanical Name: Athyrium niponicum Pictum.
  • Hardiness: Zones 5 to 8.
  • Bloom Time: N/A, grown for foliage.
  • Size: 2 feet high and wide.
  • Foliage: Gray-green leaves with silvery maroon veins.
  • Light Needs: Partial to full shade.
  • Growing Advice: Before planting, amend soil with several inches of organic matter.
  • Prize Picks: Variations exist, but may be hard to find-two in circulation are aptly named Pewter Lace and Ursula's Red.

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Photo: RDA GID

Lady's-mantle

Lovers of this herb know that the best thing to follow a rain shower isn't a rainbow - it's the glistening foliage of lady's-mantle. The felted leaves are known for shimmering from accumulated dew drops and water, but also for their scalloped edges reminiscent of a woman's cloak (or lady's mantle).
Such distinctive foliage belongs in a garden border. But be sure to leave room for the dainty, star-shaped chartreuse flowers that spray up in clusters from the gray-green mounds. These blooms look great in mixed bouquets and dried floral arrangements.
  • Common Names: Lady's mantle.
  • Botanical Name: Alchemilla.
  • Hardiness: Zones 4 to 7 or 8.
  • Bloom Time: Early summer.
  • Size: 1 to 2 feet high, 2 feet wide.
  • Flowers: Yellow-green, borne in clusters.
  • Light Needs: Full sun to partial shade.
  • Growing Advice: If planting seeds, start indoors and transplant in spring. Divide in spring and fall.
  • Prize Picks: Alchemilla mollis and Alchemilla vulgaris are often sold interchangeably, but the latter has much smaller, greener flowers and its leaves are less furry and more deeply lobed.

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Photo: Las Pilitas; www.laspilitas.com

Matilija poppy

Nothing screams for attention quite like the Matilija poppy, and rightly so. The grandiose dimensions of the flower, 4 to 6 inches across, find justification in the delicate wrinkles of the white, crepe-like petals surrounding the golden center pompon of stamens. This unique poppy is known to be fragrant and quite vigorous once established.
  • Common Names: Matilija poppy, fried-egg flower.
  • Botanical Name: Romneya coulteri.
  • Hardiness: Zones 9 to 11.
  • Bloom Time: Summer.
  • Size: 6 to 8 feet high and 3 to 6 feet wide.
  • Flowers: White with yellow centers.
  • Light Needs: Full sun.
  • Growing Advice: To thrive, it must be planted in well-drained soil; once established, it is very drought-tolerant.

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Photo: Mila Zinkova

Night-blooming cereus

Here's a flower that gives a new meaning to the phrase "late bloomer." Also known as "queen of the night" the night-blooming cereus delivers on its name. But don't blink-its fragrant white buds only open after dark and close before the sun comes up. And then the show is over; single blooms usually only last one night.
  • Common Names: Night-blooming cereus, queen of the night, Honolulu queen, strawberry pear.
  • Botanical Name: Hylocereus undatus.
  • Hardiness: Tropical plant. Minimum temperatures, 55 to 59 degrees.
  • Bloom Time: Summer.
  • Size: Climbs 6 to 15 feet high and 3 to 15 feet wide.
  • Flowers: White, waxy, many-petaled, and up to 12 inches across.
  • Light Needs: Bright light or partial shade. Keep out of direct sunlight.
  • Growing Advice: Root a 4 to 6 inch cutting in moist peat or vermiculite. An epiphyte, this plant does best in a well-drained, sandy soil mix. Generously water once each week and feed regularly with a balanced liquid fertilizer. Keep the soil slightly moist throughout winter. Transplant every 3 years or as needed after flowering.

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Photo: Park Seed, www.parkseed.com

Obedient plant

Why can't everything be as responsive as obedient plant? Bend its stalk, twist the pink blooms - there they stay, hence the name. The spires of tubular pink blooms are a pretty sight in any event. The plant can be invasive, but it's certainly not hard to remove. Obedient plant is also low-maintenance and looks great in a wildflower garden.
  • Common Names: Obedient plant, false dragonhead.
  • Botanical Name: Physostegia.
  • Hardiness: Zones 3 to 9.
  • Bloom Time: Mid to late summer.
  • Size: 1 to 3 feet high, spreads to 2 feet or more.
  • Flowers: Pink, tubular blooms.
  • Light Needs: Full sun to partial shade.
  • Growing Advice: Can be invasive, so best used in wildflower gardens.
  • Prize Picks: Summer Snow bears white flowers. Those of Bouquet Rose are darker pink than the species. Variegata's grayish-green leaves have white margins.

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