THE DEVIL'S HAND TREE - Chiranthodendron pentadactylon

The Devil’s hand tree - Chiranthodendron pentadactylon

If you are looking for plants a little on the unusual side then you will find it hard to beat this extremely creepy species. Commonly known as the Devil’s hand tree - Chiranthodendron pentadactylon, it is an evergreen tree from Central America noted for the unusual design of its flowers.

The Devil’s hand tree bloom
Native to the cloud forests of Guatemala and Mexico, the Devil’s hand tree is typically found growing on the wet slopes where it can reach heights of up to 40 feet tall. Besides the bizarre flowers, it also produces distinctive oversized leaves with ruddy metallic veins and fuzzy undersides.

The genus name 'Chiranthodendron' comes from the Greek language meaning 'hand-flowering tree'. The species name 'pentadactylon' means five fingered.

The distinctive flowers appear in late spring and early summer. The five blood red stamens are shaped like a clawed hand with a double row of saffron yellow pollen running along each finger.

The flowers are pollinated by nectar sipping bats and birds which drink the nectar from the bowl-like petals hidden beneath the hand-like stamen. Once fertilized the stamens begin to fade and gently curl to resemble claws. Its fruit is a 3–4 inch long oblong, five-lobed capsule contains black seeds.

Devil’s hand tree - Chiranthodendron pentadactylon illustration
The Devil’s hand tree was well known to the Aztecs who revered a single grand specimen which grew in Toluca - the Valley of Mexico. This lone tree was famous and venerated, and healers used parts of it to make medicine for treating lower abdominal pain and heart problems.

For reasons unknown, the Aztecs harvested every single flower off the tree to prevent it from producing seed from which others of its kind could grow. However there were rumours seedlings hidden in royal gardens as well as the private gardens of those who were responsible for looking after the tree’s welfare.

Today Devil’s hand tree can be found in gardens around the world, but mostly in North America where it grows well near to its native range.

Stan Shebs file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

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