As a plant person – a gardener, not some sort of cross species mutant – I find it weird that some people wander through the world without seeing plants as individuals. They never ask themselves what it is, and often seem to not even see it as they trudge through a garden bed. I suspect it is a modern thing, for our ancestors relied on an in depth knowledge of plants for their survival. Today? Not so much.

How does this relate to books? Firstly there is some charm in a character teaching another about the world – either as a couple, or in a mentor relationship. Jean Auel used this mentor aspect a lot, when Ayla learned from everyone she met and formed deep bonds with others that shared her interest in plants. Aside from food and flavour, there was the medicinal aspect of plants, giving her some authority due to her knowledge.

In a work aspect this could involve many types of jobs and mentors. Cooks and herbs. A medieval longbowman needed to know how to identify timber such as yew that would make a good bow as well as how to dry it which could take four years. Oak barrels and their taste effect on the storage of alcohol. Weaving would be another, passing on the knowledge of growing flax, harvesting and thrashing. History programmes are good for details such as this – Ruth Goodman and her team show how people lived in the past and you can learn how to thatch, build a drystone wall, a hedgerow or turn mangel worzels into silage to keep your cows alive. All of this would have been passed down and improved upon – you can see the interest in say a bright apprentice experimenting.

As an example, I was writing about the Scottish highlands in my last book in the Druid’s Portal time travel series. In describing the scenery, I included the changing colours of heather, and found a myth that said the rarer white heather only grew in places where no blood had been spilled. I also used it as a bedding and in tea and to scent soap. So a with little information, I was able to weave all these aspects into the story without going into a botanical info dump.

For scifi, the plants become even more interesting. How many explorers have been eaten, poisoned or used as a host body because the away team didn’t notice plants? In Star Trek alone plants made Spock intoxicated with lust, which is pretty good for an invisible spore. Dr Who had the Seeds of Doom. SE Sasaki gave us the amazing plant thing in her space adventures “Amazing Grace”. Midworld by Alan Dean Foster where the plant world was really the main character. I’ll include the scene in Frankenstein where the monster sees a girl throwing daisies into the water. It’s a powerful scene of innocence, juxtaposed with horror.

Combining some sort of apocalyptic event with a mutation is a popular way to keep characters on their toes. The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham combines meteor induced blindness with semi sentient predatory plants. The various documentaries and facebook groups that show abandoned buildings overtaken by plants and time are an excellent source of inspiration.

But what about romance? How about the romance of a setting perfumed by the heady scents of rosemary and wild basil as your couple picnic overlooking the Mediterranean? Or a regency bunch of flowers which cleverly conceal a message based on the language of flowers?

But let us not forget the villain. A poison pellet in a secret compartment in a ring or chalice drugs the woman who spurns their evil plans. The traditional witch in the forest pulling a mandrake root at midnight for a charm, her ears stuffed with moss so she does not hear the deadly screams of mandrake. A leaf of wolfsbane, carried to repel a furred fiend. The wicked witch in Oz and the deadly soporific poppies. Or the CEO of a corporation genetically altering plants without a care for anything but profit.

So, plants are much more than a vague green thing underfoot or a forest of generic trees. They are leaves of magic and adventure, roots of poison and pain, branches to build a deadly bow or a house to shelter your family.

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World Building: Plants
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