Saturday, August 15, 2009
Now that I come to think about it, plant-people are underutilized in speculative fiction.
The first such species I encountered was in Jack L. Chalker’s Well World series, which featured well over a thousand sentient species living on an artificial world. One such species looked like large humanoid plants, but unfortunately I don’t have either the Chalker books or Wayne Barlowe’s Extraterrestrials, which included a painting of a member of that species. I just remember that each plant-person grew a huge leaf from its head, which was used in photosynthesis.
Then there are the cactacae of China Mieville’s Bas-Lag novels. These look like green humanoids covered with sharp thorns, which they file down if they want to avoid hurting people of other species. They also have sap rather than blood, which protects them from the predatory anophelii in The Scar.
There are also Tolkien’s Ents, though they’re so much larger than others that they’re ambulatory trees. Finally, today I learned about a manga called “Finding the Fallen”, which features a type of plant-people called Ruoens.
When severely injured, they strip naked, down a gallon of water and cover themselves in rich, thick potting soil and lay there for a day or two.
The more I think about this, the more potential it has. You’d have to bend science around the concept, of course – plant-people aren’t biologically possible for several reasons, one being that the average humanoid doesn’t have sufficient surface area for the kind of gaseous exchange and sunlight absorption that photosynthesis requires. But if you can disregard this, there’s a lot of possibilities for plant-people.
• Some plants, such as mistletoe, parasitize others. Could some species of plant-people do the same to others?
• Some plants have properties, medicinal or otherwise, which could be very valuable. For instance, an ounce of saffron can cost well over $20. What if some plant-people were killed or kept as slaves so that these products could be harvested from them?
• Plants have several interesting features that people don’t – stolons, flowers, roots, food storage in the form of underground tubers, fertilization through insects or wind. Would these be present on plant-people too?