Weirdness in the Plant Kingdom

Fantasy writers are always on the lookout for interesting ideas and “weird stuff” with which to populate their stories. An unusual or exotic location is often an important background element to a story. This is particularly the case when crossing over into science fiction. Tattooine is the desert planet used for many scenes in Star Wars. Exotic and a little frightening. Who wants to get swallowed by a giant worm.

A recent exhibition at Kew of the paintings by Chris Thorogood from his book, Weird Plants, shows that our own planet is stuffed full of exotic flora. The plants would make a scene setter proud. What to make of the Rhizanthes that looks more like a sea creature than a plant that grows on the floor of a rain-forest?

What about the vampire plants—the stuff of nightmares—that grow off other plants? We have our very own, of course, in the mistletoe or lichens that attack trees. But the Hydnora? This parasitic plant has a red interior and opens up into a maw. It looks totally alien.

Of course, John Wyndham famously took the idea of parasitic plants to make these the centrepiece of his book The Day of the Triffids; and how they took over the earth. Quite nightmarish.

In addition, lesser things that are not so easily observed are going on. In the jungle, some plants poison rivals by emitting chemicals that inhibit their growth. How is that for a subtle plot idea?

I’m interested in the above because, over the last year or so, I have been toying with writing a story set on a desert planet and have been world building. I decided early on that the fauna and flora are savage. Some of the inspiration for the plants comes from cactuses, which protect themselves from being eaten by having spikes. The idea of plants having defensive missiles is also an idea I have considered using. I also intend to include a carnivorous plant along the lines of a Venus flytrap but only much, much larger. So big, it could eat large animals—or the protagonist. On the fauna front, there would a range of predators—all of which would be happy to attack and eat the main characters. I decided that since the main species are, in essence, six limbed, the whole ecosystem operated on the same principle. The equivalent of a lion would thus be a six-limbed monster. It could claw with its front limbs whilst still being able to move freely about on its other four legs.

For the book, the environment I have planned is very hostile and it plays a major part in how I see the story developing. Just to give an idea of the thinking here, I could envisage the protagonist (or other character) luring their opponent(s) into being ambushed by plants. Or the plants providing a defensive wall around a settlement.

The possibilities for being creative with unusual fauna or flora are endless.