Talking Trees and Killer Spores: The Flora of Science Fiction and Fantasy

In this modern age of organic produce, vegetarianism, veganism, and hyper awareness of climate change as it relates to the flora of our planet; it’s hard to imagine the existence of life without the green growing goodness of plants. While I love aliens that resemble animals, I have to admit science fiction and fantasy plants might be even more interesting.

Inspired by the coming of spring (any day now!) Tor.com recently asked people over Facebook and Twitter to tell us their favorite science fiction or fantasy foliage. There were some interesting responses, which I’ve included below in addition to some of my favorite SFF trees, plants, flowers and spores. But watch out, some of these plants can walk and talk!

The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom PlanetSomething I particularly liked about the topic of SFF plants was how many examples seemed to come from literature. The 1954 children’s book The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet depicts an invisible second moon, which orbits the Earth. This planetoid is covered in various types of space mushrooms. Though populated by little green people, these aliens are sadly, not also mushrooms.

Larry Niven’s Known Space series gives us the Stage Trees. Essentially these are plants that are genetically engineered to be solid-fuel rockets. Beginning their lives as “stage bushes,” when ignited they will blast off and send seeds blowing in every direction! If the stage tree gets to its much larger life cycle it becomes a multi-stage rocket nearly half a mile tall. These rockets will eventually blast off and spread their seeds onto distant worlds capable of supporting life.

EntsNaturally, many of you mentioned Tolkien and there are a lot of special plants in Middle-earth! From Aegolos, to pipe-weed, to Seregon, a Hobbit botanist would have quite a bit of cataloging! But of course the most memorable plants from The Lord of the Rings books are those walking talking Ents! These sentient trees are easily the greatest of talking plants that are also on the team of the good guys. Hey Saruman, put that in your pipe-weed and smoke it!

Over in the world of TV and film, sentient plants are everywhere. Fan-favorite Farscape gave us the Delvian species of which Zotoh Zhann was a member. Just like conventional plants need light to survive, Delvians get seriously excited and turned on by the light from a sun and as such, they have photogasms.

Forest of Cheem

The Ninth Doctor seemed familiar with the intelligent species known as the Trees of Cheem in the episode “The End of the World.” One member of this species, Jabe, even gave her life to help the Doctor stop Cassandra’s evil plot.

The Whomping WillowBecause Hogwarts is located right near a forest, it makes sense that the world of Harry Potter and his pals is teaming with fantastical plant life. The terrific trio is almost devoured by the tendrils of a Devil’s Snare in the first book. Though Hermione manages to take out the Snare using a spell that looks a lot like sunlight. (I thought plants liked sun?) Hogwart’s also has a gigantic tree called The Whomping Willow, which nearly destroys Harry and Ron and their flying car in The Chamber of Secrets. Notably, all Hogwarts students also have to deal with something called mandrakes; a kind of restorative plant that shrieks when harvested. Hearing an adult mandrake can kill a human, muggle or wizard alike!

Omicron sporesFinally, there are three science fiction plants that are so infamous that they had to be included at the end of our brief list. The first are the Omicron spores from the 60s Star Trek episode, “This Side of Paradise.” Other than sharing a title with a novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, this episode depicted alien plants that shot spores into your face if you got too close. After you got hit with the spores, you would turn into a laughing lunatic and desert the Enterprise. We’ll give you one guess as to which character has to show these plants who is really in charge.

Audrey 2The second of the infamous SF plants is the Audrey II from all forms of the story Little Shop of Horrors. Originally a 1960 B-movie (with Jack Nicholson in a bit role!) then later a musical, and then a movie-musical directed by Frank Oz, the story of the plant that eats human flesh is one of the most popular tales of all time. Don’t believe us? Then how come EVERY SINGLE AMERICAN HIGH SCHOOL performs this musical at some point? How many Seymours, Audreys and Audrey II’s did you grow up with?

TriffidBut, the SF plant mentioned more than any others was easily John Wyndham’s Triffids, from Day of the Triffids. Though the origins of these carnivorous plants are expressly NOT thought to be extraterrestrial, we still like to think of Triffids as the sort of Daleks of plants. Can’t you just hear the Triffids screaming “EXTERMINATE!” at some poor guy with a spray bottle of Round-Up? In any case, I agree with the Facebook/Twitter responses when it comes to SFF plants; the Triffids are number one.

Of course, let me know what was missed!


Ryan Britt is a regular blogger for Tor.com. His work has been published with Opium Magazine, Clarkesworld Magazine and elsewhere.

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