Plants in Science fiction and Fantasy

Plants in Science fiction and Fantasy

Plants are everywhere, always in the background, never really having much focus drawn on them. But often creating the sense of place and atmosphere of the area they are in. An example of this is when we in Australia see eucalyptus, we instantly think of our Australian outback. Or when we see boreal forests and Cacti. We are reminded of where they are.

This is true when we think of plants in works of fiction and at that especially in science fiction where these places are limited only by the individuals imagination. Usually when we think about plant life on another world we tend to resort to analogues within our own. Many early science fiction works, when written imagined lush tropical forests filled with plants that had giant man-eating flora.

A common theme for plants in science fiction is just that, an antagonistic force either actively hostile to human life as in the Day of the Triffids, (1951) or as parasitic vegetation. Other themes of plant life in sci-fi include human form flora, an example of this is the plant Groot from Marvels Guardians of the Galaxy series of comics. Opposite to the first theme, some fictional plant species are intelligent and benevolent towards the human race. We encounter this in Clifford D simaks, All Flesh is Grass (1965) when a planet wide intelligent plant proclaims the brotherhood of all species (albeit ruthlessly enforced). Intelligent plant life is no stranger to science fiction with Kevin J Andersons Saga of Seven Suns Verdani trees.

In other works of fiction plants are not active things but instead serve to create a unique background from which the main story takes place in. Of course some of these are dangerous carnivorous plants. But others are similar to the Tesla tree’s from Dan Simmons Hyperion cantos series (1989) which store electricity and release it to scorch nearby competitors. Another is the Red weed from H.G Wells War of the Worlds (1897) which invades earth along with the alien tripods. Or James Camerons Avatar (2009) where upon the alien planet, almost every flora has bioluminescent  foliage.

Plant life on earth is often what we use to try and imagine what plant life in these science fiction and fantasy stories might look and behave like. Of course with a little bit of imagination thrown into the mix. This imagination is not limited to recent times, the concept of fictional flora is rooted in antiquity being a subject of imaginative fascination for many people at the start of fictional writing and even today.

In conclusion Plant life in science fiction and Fantasy writing can be just as important as the aliens and the spaceships that are far more popularised.


Author Mathew Woods. Murdoch branch.