By Erin Marissa Russell
They say that gardeners are easy to shop for, because you can’t go wrong giving a gardener a plant—but what about when you need a gift for the gardener who has everything? Some people have such huge plant collections that you just know anything you pick out will simply be a duplicate of a plant they already have. That’s where we come in. We’ve curated this list of 24 rare plants that make excellent gifts for those gardeners that are so hard to shop for because they’ve already grown practically everything—or maybe you’re the one who has tried growing all the common plants for gardeners in your area and is looking for something new. Whatever the case may be, you’re sure to find something new to love in the options we present here.
Cupcake Blush Cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Cupcake Blush’)
Growing Zones: 2 through 11
The cupcake blush strain of cosmos is a fairly newly developed variety, but gardeners love it because it’s just as easy to grow as the cosmos plants that have come before. Cupcake blush’s fluffy, double-layered blooms look almost like a standard cosmos flower wearing a frilly pink tutu. They’ve also been compared to a teacup and saucer due to the shape of the double bloom. These plants don’t tend to struggle with pests or disease, and they’re great for attracting beneficial pollinators like butterflies to the garden. Learn more at the Gardenia.net profile for Cupcake Blush cosmos.
Flower of an Hour (Hibiscus trionum)
Growing Zones: Short-lived perennial in zones 10 and 11; grown as an annual in other zones
Flower of an hour is a low maintenance plant that’s easy on the gardener. Its name comes from the temporal quality of the blooms, which last only a day. The short blooming period is worth it, though, as the flowers are showstoppers, with a cream-colored background, deep red centers, and purple-tinged undersides of the petals. Although the flowers only stay open for a day (and won’t open at all if the weather is cloudy), the flower of an hour plant will continue blooming all season long in summer and fall. Learn more at the Missouri Botanical Garden profile for flower of an hour.
Tassel Flower (Emilia coccinea/Emilia javanica)
Growing Zones: 8 through 11
Tassel flower is prized for its dramatic scarlet blooms, which resemble gathered pompoms or tassels. In a location for which they’re particularly well suited, tassel flowers will self sow to return year after year. The hardy little flowers stand up to hot or humid weather without a struggle. They work well at the front line of flower beds, in borders, planted in container gardens, and trimmed for cut flower arrangements. Learn more from the Plants For a Future profile on tassel flower.
Cutting Celery (Apium graveolens)
Growing Zones: 5 through 9
Few people have heard of cutting celery, much less growing it in their own gardens. Other names for the plant include par-cel, leaf celery, and wild celery. The plant looks a lot like parsley, but it tastes much more like celery. However, unlike traditional celery, cutting celery is easy to grow without a lot of fuss. Learn more at the Plants For a Future profile for cutting celery.
Eyeball Plant/Toothache Plant (Acmella oleracea/Spilanthes oleracea)
Growing Zones: 9 through 11
Eyeball plant is a relative of the daisy and comes from South America (most likely Brazil). It’s been cultivated in gardens for centuries due to its use in seasoning food and as an herbal remedy. It continuously produces attractive red and yellow flowers that look like little pompoms and are edible. Because the plant is invasive in its tropical home, you may consider growing it in a container to curtail its spread. Learn more from the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture Research & Extension’s Plant of the Week profile on eyeball plant.
Tulsi Basil/Holy Basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum)
Growing Zones: 10 through 12
Tulsi basil has been used historically both as a medicinal herb and for religious purposes in Hindu worship. It’s often consumed as a tea, and its scent and flavor are something like a blend of spicy cloves, licorice, bright lemons, and peppermint. Due to its extra spicy kick when used as a seasoning, it’s sometimes referred to as “hot basil”. Learn more at the Plants For a Future profile for tulsi basil.
Alocasia plants are considered to have some of the most unique foliage of all houseplants, and it’s easy to see why. The large leaves look like standard elephant ears, but they have a more defined shape with pointy edges, and the contrast between the deep green leaves and paler veins is striking. The azlanii variety is one of the most searched-for alocasias on the market, producing darker and darker leaves as it matures until the foliage is a burgundy-purple so deep it almost looks black from a distance. Learn more at the Greenery Unlimited profile for Alocasia azlanii.
Bat Flower (Tacca chantrieri or Tacca integrifolia)
Growing Zones: Can overwinter outdoors in zones 9B through 11; other zones can grow as a houseplant in the winter
These striking flowers should be grown indoors as houseplants in the cooler months but can be brought outdoors to enjoy the sunshine in the summer. There’s almost nothing as dramatic in the world of flowers as a bat flower. The strange, otherworldly blooms come in black with the Tacca chantrieri variety or in white with Tacca integrifolia. Learn more from the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture Research & Extension profile on bat flowers.
Hanging Lobster Claw (Heliconia rostrata)
Growing Zones: Can overwinter outdoors in zones 10 through 11; grow indoors as a houseplant in other zones.
The hanging lobster claw plant goes by many other names as well, such as crab claw, false bird of paradise, and hanging parrot’s beak. All these names hint at the unique shape and coloration of the plant’s blooms, which cascade in strips of stacked tubular blossoms that really do resemble the claws of a crab or lobster, tinged with green at the tips and magenta on the rest. Learn more at the Gardenia.net profile for hanging lobster claw.
California Firecracker (Dichelostemma ida-maia)
Growing Zones: 5 through 8
What makes the California firecracker plant so unique are the cute little blossoms it produces. It’s easy to see where the plant got its name, as the flowers really do look like bright red firecrackers tied in bundles, tipped with yellow wicks, that appear from May to July. The plant was originally a wildflower from California, but it’s begun to catch on with gardeners in other regions. Learn more from the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center’s profile for California firecracker.
Checkered Lily (Fritillaria meleagris)
Growing Zones: 4 through 8
The checkered lily is one of the most stately plants you can add to your garden, with bell-shaped flowers that are either parchment-colored blooms dotted with darker burgundy or cream-colored and patterned with pale green. It’s a wildflower that comes from the UK and is just starting to become known in American gardens. Learn more in our article How to Grow Checkered Lily Flowers (Fritillaria Meleagris, Snake’s Head Fritillary, Guinea Hen Flower).
Chinese Fairy Bells (Disporum longistylum)
Growing Zones: 5 through 9
Chinese fairy bells have a subtle beauty, but those who look closely will be rewarded at the sight. The glossy lance-shaped foliage is attractive on its own, but look carefully in spring and summer, and you’re bound to find the dangling bell-shaped blooms tucked in between the branches. Flowers come in shades of purple, brick red, or white. Learn more from the Royal Horticultural Society profile for Chinese fairy bells.
Doll’s Eyes/White Baneberry (Actaea pachypoda)
Growing Zones: 3 through 8
This unique plant gets the nickname “doll’s eyes” from the look of the berries that appear in summer. The berries are the size of peas and grow in clusters, with each of their white skins adorned with a single, pupil-like black dot. Gardeners love the doll’s eyes plant because it flourishes in shady spots where it can be tricky to find something that grows well. Learn more at the Missouri Botanical Garden profile for white baneberry.
Rare Succulents and Cacti
Bunny Succulent (Monilaria moniliformis)
Growing Zones: Can overwinter outdoors in Zone 10a through 11b; grow as a houseplant in other zones
It’s easy to see where the bunny succulent got its name. From the plant’s base, little green spheres sprout two “ears” each, which make the shoots look more and more like bunny rabbits the longer they grow. Learn more from the World of Succulents profile for bunny succulents.
Fishbone Cactus (Epiphyllum anguliger)
Growing Zones: Can overwinter outdoors in Zone 10; grow as a houseplant in other zones
Also known as zig zag cactus, orchid cactus, ric rac cactus, or St. Anthony’s ric rac, this cactus has an eye-catching geometric silhouette. The flat, ruffly leaves really do look like botanical ric rac trim. Learn more from the Royal Horticultural Society’s profile on fishbone cactus.
Lipstick Echeveria (Echeveria agavoides ‘Lipstick’)
Growing Zones: Can overwinter outdoors in zones 9 through 12; grow as a houseplant in other zones
Lipstick echeveria was named for the kisses of varnish-bright red that edge its leaves. It’s an easy way to add high drama to any garden. Lipstick echeveria can be grown outdoors in zones 9 through 12, while other gardeners can choose between keeping it indoors as a houseplant year-round or growing it indoors when weather is cool, then moving it outside to enjoy the warmer seasons. Learn more from the Gardenia.net profile on lipstick echeveria.
Living Stones/Pebble Plant (Lithops)
Growing Zones: Can overwinter outdoors in zones 10 through 11; grow as a houseplant in other zones
At first glance, you wouldn’t imagine that lithops are actually growing plants, they resemble stones so closely. A collection of several in a pot looks like a group of collected pebbles, with the plants having natural color variation that includes shades of brown, red, gray, and green, many with spots or streaks. Learn more from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Division of Extension Master Gardener Program’s profile for living stones.
Sweetheart Hoya/Sweetheart Wax Plant/Hoya Hearts (Hoya kerrii)
Growing Zones: Can overwinter outdoors in Zones 11a through 11b; grow as a houseplant in other zones
The large, broad leaves of sweetheart hoya gave the plant its name due to their distinctive heart shape. As the plant grows, it stretches out a stem that sprouts more heart-shaped leaves along its length on either side. Learn more from the World of Succulents profile for sweetheart hoya.
Rare Trees and Shrubs
Growing Zones: 8 through 11
Eucalyptus trees are prized for their menthol-like scent and have a long history of medicinal use, but they’re also quite attractive as ornamentals. They produce lots of flower that, like dandelions, have stamens that surround the bud instead of petals, making the blooms look like little fireworks. Better yet, eucalyptus is a natural insect repellent, so a eucalyptus tree will do its part to keep your garden pest-free. Learn more in our article How to Grow Eucalyptus Trees.
Goldfinger/Shrubby Cinquefoil (Potentilla fruticosa ‘Goldfinger’)
Shrubby cinquefoil will tolerate growing in partial shade, but it produces more flowers when grown in full sun. The mound-shaped shrubs grow to between two and four feet tall and have a long summertime blooming period during which they put out lots of yellow flowers, each upt o an inch and a half across. Learn more at the Missouri Botanical Garden profile for goldfinger.
Harlequin Glorybower (Clerodendrum trichotomum)
Growing Zones: 7 through 10
The harlequin glorybower is a deciduous shrub that stretches to reach heights of up to 20 feet tall and can spread just as wide. Although the foliage of the plant is nothing special, harlequin glorybower is known for the colorful show of its white tube-shaped blossoms that transform as summer wears on to a vibrant shade of red before finally producing blue fruit in the fall. Learn more at the Missouri Botanical Garden profile for harlequin glorybower.
There are rarer plants than these on the market, but many of them are prohibitively expensive. Some variegated monstera plants can sell for thousands of dollars each, while cuttings may cost up to $200. Variegated monsteras have become so valuable that one was even stolen from the Christchurch Botanic Gardens in New Zealand in September of 2020. The plants we’ve listed here aren’t quite that rare, but they aren’t that expensive, either—making them great gifts for the gardener on your list who already has one of everything, even if that gardener is you.