This story was first published on May 21, 2008
Circulating message claims that attached photographs show a very rare plant with parrot shaped flowers that grows in Thailand.
The claims in the message are true. Although they are rare, Parrot Flowers do exist and the photographs in the message are genuine.
Subject: The Parrot Flower
THE PARROT FLOWER
This is a flower from Thailand . It is also a protected species and is not allowed to be exported. This will be the only way we will be able to view this flower. Prepare to be amazed:THE VERY RARE PARROT FLOWER.
According to the text of a widely circulated email, attached photographs depict a very rare flower that grows in the shape of a parrot. The message claims that the “Parrot Flower” grows in Thailand and is a protected species. The photographs have generated a great deal of controversy since they first began circulating several years ago. Many commentators have suggested that the Parrot Flower is no more than a hoax and that the images have been digitally manipulated.
However, although they are indeed quite rare, Parrot Flowers do exist and the photographs are genuine. According to information on ExoticRainforest.com, the plants grow in Thailand, Myanmar (formerly Burma) and portions of east India and are rare members of the genus Impatiens, “Impatiens psittacina”. The word “psittacina” translates as “parrot like”. Steve Lucas of ExoticRainforest.com has published comprehensive information about the species and the history of the above email forward and photographs. The site notes that the information about the plant was first published in 1901 in the Curtis Botanical Journal Magazine by the botanist Joseph Dalton Hooker. And the now famous photographs included above were taken by a Thai grower of the plant in 2001. Scans of Hooker’s original description of the plant along with additional photographs of Parrot Flowers are also available on the website.
Moreover, information about Impatiens psittacina in an article by plant expert Ray Morgan notes:
Recently there has been some controversy on the internet regarding an Impatiens picture published on certain websites, bearing a certain resemblance to a parrot in flight. Many people have suggested that the plant did not exist and the picture was a fake, computer-generated from parts of other pictures. It has been referred to as the parrot plant. The plant, however, does indeed exist, and is Impatiens psittacina, which can be found growing in northern Thailand, northern India and Myanmar (formerly Burma).
It was described by JD Hooker in 1901 and the specific epithet means parrot-like. The flowers, which do resemble a parrot in flight, are shades of pale lilac, reddish purple and white. It is not closely related to the parrot-billed species, but deserves a place in this story.
Posts on the University of British Columbia Botanical Garden forum also confirm that the plant is real.
The claims in the email that the plant is protected in Thailand and cannot be exported also appear to be true. During his research, Steve Lucas was told that “Thai law made it illegal to own, collect, or export plants or seeds”. The rarity and limited geographic range of the species along with the difficulty of obtaining seeds or specimens for plant collections have probably contributed to speculation that the photographs are not genuine. Also, some versions of the email include incorrectly spelled versions of the plant’s scientific name (Impatiens psittacina), which may have also made it difficult for recipients to track down reliable information about the species.
It has apparently become fashionable for at least a few self-proclaimed image manipulation experts to declare virtually any strange or unusual image that crosses their email inbox or browser as “photoshopped”. Of course, many images that circulate via the Internet are indeed composite images or outright fakes. But in this case at least, the images are genuine.