Five Stories About Perilous Plant Life and High-Risk Gardening

We’re well into spring, here in the northern hemisphere, and with it comes a painstaking consideration of the pros and cons of: (A) spending much money and effort on plants doomed to die or (B) paving over the garden.

Many authors, doubtless gonzo gardeners, take a more optimistic view of botanical possibilities. Consider these five works.

 

QRMInterplanetary” by George O. Smith (1942)

A vital communications relay between Earth and inhabited Venus, the great artificial habitat Venus Equilateral provides its investors with a healthy income. However, there is no income stream so robust that its owners cannot hope for a bit more—thus the selection of new Director Francis Burbank. Burbank may utterly lack the technical know-how possessed by the relay station’s staff, but he has arrived armed with a determination to trim fat and transform the station into one that is even more lucrative.

As it happens, total ignorance concerning the concern he now runs unexpectedly proves a tremendous impediment to both profitability and basic survival. Confronted with a room full of what Burbank took to be weeds, the functionary did not hesitate (not even to ask how and why there might be weeds on a space station). He had the offending vegetation cast into space. It was only after the fact that he discovered that the station’s “air plant” was in fact made of literal plants, and by disposing of the “weeds,” he had quite possibly doomed the entire crew to slow asphyxiation. Well, unless the engineers in this, the first story in a long-running series, can work out how to keep everyone breathing.

 

Greener Than You Think by Ward Moore (1947)

J.S. Francis is a scientific genius, the inventor of the metamorphizer formula. She believes that this will end famine forever. Well, it doesn’t work on everything, but it does produce wondrous growth in grasses. Many crops belong to family Gramineae.

How to market her great discovery? Francis hires salesman Albert Weener to manage sales … and thereby dooms the human species.

Long-term goals like ending famine are fine for ivory-tower eggheads but pragmatic Weener wants cash now. Why focus on crops when so many Americans are desperate to have perfect gardens? Thus Weener’s demonstration on Mrs. Dinkman’s half-dead lawn. The test more than proves the formula’s ability to provoke wild, uncontrolled lawn growth.

Pity that her lawn was composed primarily of crabgrass. Pity that neither Francis nor any other botanist has any clue how to reverse the formula’s effect. Pity that humanity’s weapons prove futile. Pity that humanity will vanish under a sea of crabgrass. But doomsday will take time and before that happens, Weener is determined to exploit the disaster he set in motion for as much money as possible.

 

Hothouse by Brian Aldiss (1962)

Eons in the future, the Earth is tide-locked to the Sun. The permanently sunlit side is paradise for vegetation. Voracious plants dominate the Earth’s biosphere, even reaching deep into space to the Lagrange point where the Moon now resides. Insects have dwindled to wasps, bees, ants, and termites. Mammals, once diverse, have been nigh exterminated. Only a handful of puny, stunted humans remain. Where humans once ruled the Earth, now they are food for carnivorous plants.

Living on the knife’s edge of survival leaves no room for mercy. A child’s death has convinced tribal leader Lily-yo that her cohort is too old to protect the tribe’s children. Young Toy is tapped to guide the tribe; the elders will “go Up,” sealing themselves in seeds which spiderlike plants will convey to the Moon. The children will remain on Earth.

Astonishing revelations await both groups. Not all the revelations are survivable.

 

Bryony and Roses by T. Kingfisher (2015)

Bryony has endured a lengthy series of calamities: her mother’s death, her father’s foolish schemes that left the family destitute and her father a murdered corpse, and the subsequent flight from urban debt to impoverished rustic seclusion. The latest—an unexpected blizzard—seems likely to end her days.

An isolated manor house offers shelter and food. Misjudgment in the form of an illicitly plucked rose attracts the ire of her bestial host, who demands Bryony serve him as gardener to pay her debt. A familiar sounding tale. Indeed, Bryony learns that she is not the Beast’s first guest. Bryony may be the first guest to survive…but only if she is very cunning.

 

Semiosis by Sue Burke (2018)

Idealists wake from years of cold sleep to discover that their ship has delivered them to HIP 30815f rather than HIP 30756. Further travel being impossible and with a seemingly habitable planet at hand, they name their new home Pax and descend to found a utopia (or so they hope). What they succeed in doing is discovering many unexpected ways to perish.

The colonists believe they are the sole intelligent beings on Pax. They are quite wrong. Terrestrial prejudice blinds them to the intelligent beings around them. When the penny drops and the survivors comprehend that they are surrounded by sentient plants, the colonists have a choice: continue as they have been and face slow, inevitable extinction—or find some way to bridge the communications gap between human and plant. They must convince one of Pax’s true masters that humans are useful servants.

***

 

Gardening being the popular pastime that it is—the best way to spend fifty dollars producing two dollars’ worth of tomatoes—many authors have written about gardening and gardening-adjacent subjects. No doubt some of you have favourites not mentioned above. Comments are, as ever, below.

In the words of fanfiction author Musty181, prolific book reviewer and perennial Darwin Award nominee James Davis Nicoll “looks like a default mii with glasses.” His work has appeared in Publishers Weekly and Romantic Times as well as on his own websites, James Nicoll Reviews (where he is assisted by editor Karen Lofstrom and web person Adrienne L. Travis) and the 2021 and 2022 Aurora Award finalist Young People Read Old SFF (where he is assisted by web person Adrienne L. Travis). He is a four-time finalist for the Best Fan Writer Hugo Award, and is surprisingly flammable.

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