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Chenille plant (Acalypha hispida). Shrub; hardy in Zone 11; often grown as a houseplant or an annual in colder areas. The fuzziness of the red catkins comes from the elongated, exaggerated female flowers. Male flowers are borne separately and are nearly inconspicuous.
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'Red Head' Fountain Grass
'Red Head' fountain grass (Pennisetum 'Red Head'). Perennial ornamental grass; Zones 6 to 9. The flowers and subsequent seed heads owe their soft halo to special structures, called awns, attached to each floret.
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Lamb's ears (Stachys byzantina). Herbaceous perennial; Zones 4 to 8. Soft, silvery foliage makes lamb's ears a popular plant with gardeners. The white hairs on the leaves help protect the plant from drought stress in its arid native environment of central Asia and the Middle East.
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Water LettuceWater lettuce (Pistia stratiotes). Aquatic evergreen perennial; Zones 9 to 11; frequently used as an aquatic annual in colder areas. The thick, plush leaves of this floating pond plant contain lots of aerenchyma (tissue with generous intercellular space that allows for the transport of air), which helps the plant remain buoyant.
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Moss and Selaginella
These mosses and spike mosses are tender. A dense carpet of lush, green moss is a delight to touch and soothing to the eye.
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Mexican Tree FernMexican tree fern (Cibotium schiedei). Evergreen fern; Zones 9 to 11; can be grown as a houseplant in colder areas. The soft, dry hairs that cover this plant are characteristic of many tree ferns and are particularly dense on the new and emerging crosiers.
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Paperbark MaplePaperbark maple (Acer griseum). Tree; Zones 4 to 8. The exfoliating bark of this small tree becomes especially ornamental as the older, lighter layers peel away to reveal the more richly colored younger layer.
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EuphorbiaEuphorbia confinalis subsp. rhodesiaca. Herbaceous succulent; Zones 10 and 11. The corky fissures and ridges on the stem of this succulent look like wood, and the plant can reach treelike proportions. But underneath lies nothing more than milky-white sap and soft, green plant tissue.
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Coconut PalmCoconut palm (Cocos nucifera). Evergreen palm; Zone 11. Looking as if it were woven on a loom, the fibrous, textilelike leaf sheath protects the young leaf before it emerges. It eventually drops off as the leaf matures.
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Ant FernAnt fern (Lecanopteris mirabilis). Fern; Zone 11; can be grown in a conservatory or greenhouse in colder areas. A rare and unusual species of ant fern, it boasts Braille-like bumps on its foliage, which reveal the presence of a spore bundle on the underside of the frond.
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Kousa DogwoodKousa dogwood (Cornus kousa). Tree; Zones 5 to 8. Kousa dogwood flowers over a long period and bears this interesting fruit, in which each protrusion indicates the presence of a seed.
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Fan palm (Licuala peltata). Evergreen palm; Zones 10 and 11. The neat accordion pleats that give texture to the leaves of this palm are made when the leaf forms deep in the meristem of the plant. This folding is an effective storage strategy for the plant's large leaves.
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Korean White PineKorean white pine (Pinus koraiensis). Tree; Zones 4 to 7. The cones of pine trees are especially appealing to touch when they are in their young, green stage, and even when they are sticky with sap.
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Rosa 'Carefree Spirit'
Rosa 'Carefree Spirit.' Shrub; Zones 4 to 9.When it comes to sensuous and silky, you can't do much better than roses. The fine sheen of their petals is best appreciated in species and varieties that have fewer of them. On a sunny day, the light can better reveal the nuances of color.
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Hibiscus 'Muy Grande'
Hibiscus 'Muy Grande' Perennial with woody base; Zones 5 to 10. With its enormous, lightly ridged petals fused to form a giant "face," silky matte flowers, and thick mantle of pollen, swamp rose mallow makes a delightful garden plant.
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Gardenia (Gardenia augusta). Shrub; Zones 7 to 10. Readily available as a houseplant and a cut flower, gardenia is extremely fragrant. But few people take time out from sniffing to appreciate its thick, velvety petals and glossy green foliage.
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Stanhopea nigroviolacea. Evergreen herbaceous perennial; Zone 11; grown only in the world's warmest climates, and in conservatories and greenhouses in the United States. One of the oddest orchids around, the stanhopea features an unusually thick, heavy, and waxy central part. The flowers are also extremely fragrant.
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Thread-Leaf Blue Star
This native perennial is wonderful in large drifts, and the fine, feathery foliage turns a striking yellow in autumn.
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Fir clubmoss (Huperzia spp.). Evergreen clubmoss; tender and tropical; exact zones unknown. One of the most stunning and asked-about plants in the New York Botanical Garden's collection, this rare, primitive plant has spore-bearing tassels that resemble the trim on a Victorian lamp.
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'Avalanche' birch (Betula 'Avalanche'). Tree; Zones 2 to 7. Although its bark is a dull brownish yellow when the tree is young, this particular variety of birch acquires a smooth white trunk as it matures.
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Birch Bark Cherry
Birch bark cherry (Prunus serrula). Tree; Zones 6 to 8. This tree puts on the spring floral show typical of ornamental cherries, but its smooth, coppery bark sets it apart.
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Musa ornata 'Lavender Beauty.' Herbaceous evergreen perennial; Zone 11. Banana plants are characterized by large, smooth leaves, whether they produce edible fruit or are simply ornamental like this one.
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Epimedium x perralchicum 'Frohnleiten.' Semievergreen herbaceous perennial; Zones 5 to 8. Glossy, leathery foliage is common throughout the epimedium species; in many cases, it persists through winter.
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Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera). Aquatic perennial; Zones 4 to 11. The matte, slick-smooth leaf surface helps to bead water, preventing foliage from becoming submerged.
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Chinese chestnut (Castanea mollissima). Tree; Zones 4 to 8. Chinese chestnut goes to prickly extremes trying to protect its edible fruit. The husk that covers the nut is composed of needle-sharp spines.
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Winged Thorn Rose
Winged thorn rose (Rosa sericea subsp. omeiensis f. pteracantha). Shrub; Zones 6 to 9. With stems this ornamental, who needs flowers? This plant is particularly effective when sited so that it is backlit and the prickles take on a luminous glow.
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Cleistocactus icosagonus. Herbaceous evergreen perennial; Zones 10 and warmer; can be grown as a houseplant in colder areas. Many plants in the genus Cleistocactus look friendly and furry, but don't be deceived. Under those fine hairs are extremely sharp spines.
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Golden Barrel Cactus
Golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii). Herbaceous evergreen perennial; Zones 9 and 10; can be grown as a houseplant in colder areas. Barrel cacti make no pretense about their potential danger; the thick, curved spines protrude from the plant like talons.
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Macaw palm (Aiphanes minima). Evergreen palm; Zone 11. The fearsome ring of glossy black spines on the stem of this palm diminishes as the plant ages, but it is best sited out of high-traffic garden areas.
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Zombie palm (Zombia antillarum). Evergreen palm; Zones 9 to 11. The long spine sheaths encircling the stems of the zombie palm remain stiff and potentially dangerous throughout the life of the plant.
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