Nature is incredible. There are flowers that look like rabbits ears, plants that can eat insects, and plants that specifically attract butterflies and hummingbirds to your botanic garden. But have you ever heard of a plant that actually looks like a hummingbird? The green birdflower, scientifically known as Crotalaria cunninghamii is just that.
- The Crotalaria cunninghamii
- How To Grow Green Birdflowers
- Watch: Who Said Succulents Are Boring? 3 Types That Don’t Look Like Plants at All
- Octopus Prime, a Reddit user, shared this photo of an unusual looking plant, and when they did, the internet began to freak out.
- And here’s the funniest part: there’s actually no hummingbirds there. Guess the green flowerbird makes up for it, though!
- While it’s astonishingly similar to a flower, most humans would not mistake this plant for a bird, either.
The Crotalaria cunninghamii
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A Hummingbird flower 💜💜 An Australian Crotalaria cunninghamii plant #hummingbirdflowers
Known by the common names green birdflower or regal birdflower, the Crotalaria cunninghamii is native to inland Northern Australia. Part of the Fabaceae family, (known as the legume family), the green birdflower is related to herbaceous plants such as chickpeas, soybeans, and alfalfa. It is found mostly on unstable sand dunes and in Mulga communities, which are groups of plants that “capture, retain and cycle precious sediments, nutrients and water,” according to the Department of Environment and Conservation.
The flower, which is named after early 19th-century botanist Allan Cunningham, is a perennial shrub that can grow up to nine feet in height. It features hairy or woolly branches and dull green foliage which look like hummingbirds to the human eye. The oval leaves grow beside greenish pea flowers which are streaked with fine black lines. At first glance, the flower looks like a bird with its beak attached to the central stalk of the flowerhead. You can sometimes spot a large bee or honeyeaters hanging around the plant.
Along with looking beautiful, the plant also has some medicinal properties. According to the Australian Native Plants Society, aboriginal people were known to use the sap from the plant and green flowers to treat eye infections.
How To Grow Green Birdflowers
These seeds have a hard seedcoat and can take a while to grow. To speed up the process, pour a tiny bit of boiling water on the seeds and then soaking them in warm water for 12-24 hours. The seeds should be swollen by the time and will grow. You can also make a small nick in the seed coat with a sharp knife and soak for an additional 12 hours before sowing. The Green Birdflower grows best in sandy well-drained soil in the sun.
So whether you find yourself in Western Australia, New South Wales, or even the United States, try growing one of these unusual plants yourself. The best place you can find seeds on Amazon.
This post was originally published on July 1, 2019.
Watch: Who Said Succulents Are Boring? 3 Types That Don’t Look Like Plants at All
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It’s a plant in someone’s hand, but it looks like an origami hummingbird.
Because the plant is so unusual looking — it’s definitely not something we see just walking down the streets in America — people were wondering what it was, where it came from, and why it was shaped like that.
Fellow Reddit user SolitaryBee came through with some answers for the rest of the community, thankfully.
To answer everyone’s question, the plant is known as the green flowerbird, or regal flowerbird. And if you want to get fancy, Crotalaria cunninghamii is its scientific name.
Along with chickpeas and alfalfa, it’s part of the legume family and is native to inland northern Australia, where it thrives along sandy dunes.
And here’s the funniest part: there’s actually no hummingbirds there. Guess the green flowerbird makes up for it, though!
SolitaryBee shared that its shape had nothing to do with an adaptive evolutionary development, which is something that many people believed at first.
“The fact that the flower looks like a bird to humans cannot have evolved adaptively because as a signal receiver, there is nothing humans could have done to increase the fitness of individuals that evolved this signal (to look like a bird),” the user who is a scientist commented.
“Unless indigenous Australians in arid Australia bred or traded the plant because it looks like a bird,” he continued.
So yeah, while Australians most definitely love the plant for its stunning and unique shape, it would be quite a waste if it stopped there. They also use it as a really helpful resource. It can offer more than just looks!
And in regards to the green flowerbird’s shape, it’s actually thanks to a common anatomical trait of legumes. Many legumes have Papilionaceous flowers, which are characterized by irregular clusters of five petals and a larger upper petal known as a banner.
Darwin hypothesized that the unusual shape developed under the selective pressure of bee pollinators, but that does not mean that bees actually think they are pollinating a bird… Because if so, then the plant would have never even survived!
While it’s astonishingly similar to a flower, most humans would not mistake this plant for a bird, either.
When looking at the photo ourselves, we are actually experiencing simulacrum, which Google describes as “an image or representation of someone or something.”
Basically, it’s similar to the illusion we experience when looking at trompe-l’oeil paintings — our eyes are leading us to believe that we are looking at an object that is actually present, but it is not.
Crotalaria cunninghamii, a legume native to northern Australia, is known as the “green bird flower” for a very good reason – its green flowers look like tiny hummingbirds with their sharp beak attached to the plant’s stem.
A photo of two Crotalaria cunninghamii flowers recently went viral on Reddit, leaving many users scratching their heads and asking whether their uncanny resemblance to hummingbirds was an adaptive evolutionary development or a simple illusion. Apparently, the latter would be the most likely answer. There are no hummingbirds in northern Australia, and apart from humans, it is unlikely that any creature would mistake these flowers for real hummingbirds, so the shape does not result in any kind of benefit to the plant. Plus, the flowers only resemble hummingbirds when viewed from a certain side-angle. It’s purely a case of simulacrum, seeing shapes and forms that look like something that they’re clearly not. It’s still pretty cool, though.
Photo: indie1/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)
This isn’t the first time we’ve featured unusual flowers on Oddity Central. A couple of years ago we wrote about Night Sky Petunias, flowers that look like a beautiful starry sky, and about the snapdragon, whose vibrantly colored flowers turn into creepy skulls when they die.