The Devils’ Hand Tree (Chiranthodendron pentadactylon) is also called by various names including Monkey Hand Tree and Mexican Hand Tree. All names refer to the distinctive unusual shape of its blooms. During spring and summer, bright red flowers appear, each with five red stamens that open up like fingers with claws. What makes them more fascinating or should I say creepy is the yellow pollen at the back of the hand which looks like knuckles. As the flowers mature, the “fingers” curl under reminding you of a scene in some Hollywood horror movie. Just imagine what the scene would look like when flowers which fell from the tree gather on the ground. A strange sight indeed.
Chiranthodendron is a combination of Greek words which means “hand-flower-tree”, while pentadactylon means “five-fingered.” The tree is called Macpalxochicuahuitl (hand-flower-tree) by the Aztecs, who worships it and picked every flower to prevent it from multiplying. A few were said to be cultivated or offered as royal gifts.
The tree is native to Guatemala and parts of Mexico where it is slowly becoming an endangered species. The strange-looking flowers inspired gardeners worldwide especially in North America to add the tree to their collection. The tree can grow up to 50 feet high. The leaves are huge and shallowly lobed, with brown indumentums on the underside. Bats and birds, particularly the oriole family pollinates the cup-like petals underneath the hand. Pollinated flowers produce large, woody like pods which contain several seeds that are difficult to germinate.
Another species called Chiranthofremontia lenzi has yellow flowers and shorter claws. See the flowers here.