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Tuesday, April 09, 2019

#AtoZ Challenge : I Is For Imaginary Plants

For today’s post, I’ll consider a few fictional plants from fantasy fiction. There are so many animals that it might be a bit too much to choose just a few. 

In Harry Potter

There are quite a few of both in the Potterverse, some of the animals from mediaeval heraldry, others imagined by the author. But Herbology classes, under the amazing Professor Sprout, are fascinating. Some of the plants don’t appear till later in the series. 

Gillyweed, for example, turns up in Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire. Harry doesn’t know about it until Dobby tells him(it was Neville in the film). Harry needs something to help him breathe underwater. The gillyweed is disgusting and slimy, but works.

Devil’s Snare is another imagined plant. It appeared in the first novel, when our three heroes were on their way to look for the Philosopher’s Stone. It tangles itself around you and the more you struggle, the tighter it gets. Fortunately, Hermione has the spell for light which makes it let go. 

Mandrakes are real plants, which have medicinal properties, but you will never find ones like those in the Potterverse, which look like ugly babies when you first dig them up and mature into adults, which have a cry that can kill you. They are used, in Chamber of Secrets, to restore the people(and one cat) frozen by the basilisk. 

In The Lord Of The Rings

Athelas - a healing plant which can bring back dying people from the very edge, but I got the impression it only works if the rightful king uses it. When Aragorn asks for it and describes it to a nurse at the Houses of Healing, she says it’s very common, and who knew you could use it! 

Elanor - a pretty, white star-shaped flower from the Elves’ home of  Lothlorien. Sam Gamgee names his eldest daughter Elanor, as Hobbit girls have flower or gem names and that is the most beautiful flower he can think of. 

Mallorn trees - found in Lothlorien. The Elves have their treehouses in them and Sam plants one at home when he is healing the Shire from the damage done by the invaders in the Scouring of the Shire. 

Simbelmynë - a flower that grows all year long, mostly on burial mounds of the kings and is known as Evermind.

Oh, and there is “sweet galenas”, which is the Gondorian name for tobacco! The Hobbits call it pipeweed. One way or another, you put it in a pipe and smoke it. I suspect it isn’t our kind of tobacco, so have included it here.

Other universes

In the Middle Ages, it was believed that geese grew from a barnacle tree - makes me think of the kitten tree in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan novel Cetaganda. Mind you, the kitten tree was a piece of bizarre genetic engineering on display at a fair. Miles Vorkosigan’s cousin, Ivan, thought someone had had the bad taste to glue kittens on to a tree and unwittingly killed a kitten that wasn’t ripe by pulling it off the tree. 

Barnacle geese tree described by Gerald of Wales

In the same universe, we read about brillberries, native Barrayaran fruit which, for some reason, are edible by humans when nothing else seems to be. 

We also see a bonsai’d skellytum tree, normally a tall Barrayaran tree,  which is carefully looked after by a Barrayaran woman living on Komarr, a colony world, in the novel of the same name and its sequel, A Civil Campaign. 

Greek mythology has moly, a plant described in Homer’s Odyssey. There has been much discussion of what it might be in the real world, but whatever it is, there is no way it does what the moly in the Odyssey can do. Odysseus, knowing that the goddess Circe has turned his men into pigs, takes this plant into his mouth to protect him from having the same happen to him, before persuading her to turn his men back. Mind you, he does have to sleep with her to do that! 

There are plenty more imagined plants in fiction and legend - can you think of some? 


Brian Joseph said...

Very cool topic for your "I" post. Of course there is The Tree of Life from The Garden of Eden. In Stephen R. Simpson's The Chronicle s of Thomas Covenant, there was a magical tree known as The One Tree that figured prominently.

Sue Bursztynski said...

The Tree of Life, indeed! Which sort of turns up in The Magician’s Nephew by C.S Lewis, when Diggory takes an apple home to heal his mother, grows the seeds into a tree, which falls over in a storm and is used to build the magical wardrobe ... You do have to have Aslan’s permission to pick a fruit from it.

I haven’t read the Thomas Covenant books, though they were huge when I was in my twenties.

Varadharajan said...

A very interesting topic. I had forgotten most of the LotR plant names eventhough I would have read the entire series at least 10 times.

In addition to this, I would like to introduce a tree from Hindu/Jain/Buddhist mythology. According to the myths Kalpavriksha, the heavenly tree fulfills the wishes of those who come seeking. Some claim that the Kalpavriksha doesn't stay at the same place and keeps moving and it can be seen only by the worthy. You can read a bit more here:

Glad to have come across your blog through AtoZ.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Hi Varadharajan! Wow, the heavenly tree sounds amazing! I’m thinking I could almost do an A to Z on the trees of mythology alone. Thanks for visiting!

Debs Carey said...

I am in awe of the creative talents of fantasy writers, I really am, and this chapter displays some of the best examples about. I saw an interesting exchange on Twitter the other day about the creation of swear words, citing other examples where they'd caused readers to cringe. Fascinating!

Sue Bursztynski said...

Yes, Debs, Some amazingly gifted authors! And really, you don’t have to invent everything from scratch if you’re familiar with history, just adapt. There is a guy on Twitter who defines old words daily, I forget who. And there is a nineteenth century dictionary of historic swearwords on Project Gutenberg if you’re interested, i’ll look it up and email you.

Melanie said...

Ah yes Athelas is always the first one I think of. Kingsfoil! And of course all the paragraphs Tolkien wrote on the history of the Hobbit tobacco plants 😂

Humm... well, this might be my love of musicals talking, but one of my favourite magic plants is Audrey II! And the triffids, naturally. Apparently I’m fond of my fictional botanical life fighting back!

Sue Bursztynski said...

Oh, yes, Audrey and the triffids! Forgot about those. I did enjoy Day Of The Triffids, but don’t think I’d like encounter them!

Yes, Tolkien liked his smokes. 🙂

Cathy Kennedy said...


The imagination of these authors is intricate and infinite. The Harry Potter series I have not read or watched. TLOTR we watched the trilogy which was interesting but fantasy writing/films generally aren't my genre. Thanks for sharing and for your recent visit!

Today's letter I is for Intertidal Zone in my Little Mermaid Art Sketch series. Come join me and happy a2zing!

Sue Bursztynski said...

Thank you for visiting, Cathy! Always good to learn something new!

A Tarkabarka Hölgy said...

I was in looooove with mallorn trees the first time I read Lord of the Rings :)

The Multicolored Diary

Sue Bursztynski said...

A Mallorn tree would be wonderful to have growing in your back yard, though it would have to be a very big yard! The kids would be able to build several tree houses in it!

Roland Clarke said...

Some amazing imagined and 'evolved' plants there. In the LOTR game, you can grow many varieties of 'leaf' - many mentioned in Tolkien's writings. And smoke them.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Hi Roland! I think the smokers of LOTR are connoisseurs not unlike winelovers in our world! Early in the novel, Frodo offers Gandalf a choice of tobaccos from his collection. Bilbo seems to have a variety too.

Roland Clarke said...

And the 'flotsam' at Isengard includes some best Farthing leaf.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Indeed! Chuckle! And Gimli is very annoyed to see Merry and Pippin sitting there casually smoking while he , Legolas and Aragorn have been worried sick about them!

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Great topic, including some new examples to me! In addition to barnacle geese, the medieval Europeans believed in the vegetable lamb (aka barometz), and in Buddhist mythology there is a Nariphon tree that grows fruit in the shape of beautiful women!
I'd love to see an entire A-Z theme of fantastical plants!
Black and White: I is for Isnashi

Sue Bursztynski said...

I think I’ve heard of the vegetable lamb,though not the other one. In a world where they could declare some forms of meat to be fish for the purposes of eating it on a Friday, it doesn’t surprise me! 😂 I looked up the Nariphon tree - it seems the girls got plucked and taken away by the musicians of the gods. Most intriguing!

I’m sure an A to Z of Imaginary Plants would work very well - perhaps you will consider it for next year, to go with this year’s animals topic!