Monstrous Botanical Beauties of Fiction

“and I really got hot when I saw Janette Scott fight a triffid that spits poison and kills.”

Science Fiction, Double Feature – The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Kudzu is beautiful. It spreads out for acres and spills over trees like waterfalls of green. Along the Tohoku Expressway from Koriyama to Tokyo, it blankets vast areas and isolated copses, giving the lower-lying areas on either side of the road the appearance of an incredible undulating green sea and the occasional monster of a large tree rising from its swells.


Yet, like many plants in Fukushima prefecture, it is beautiful but deadly. Whereas the Lily of the Valleys that grace every Spring garden in and around Koriyama are poisonous from their roots to their deceivingly adorable bell flowers, the kudzu sends its roots down deep, sometimes to a depth of 12 feet; once established, it climbs, spreads, and smothers everything around it.

In July this year, the journal New Phytologist published The myriad surprises of unwanted guests: invasive plants and dynamic soil carbon pools, a study which reported that kudzu also detrimentally releases sequestered carbon from the soil.


Sinister as such plants are in the real world, some movies and literary works brilliantly amplify plants’ more inimical attributes. For instance, although they had no intention other than to root and grow at an extraordinary pace, the bean stalk vines in the 2013 film Jack the Giant Slayer wreaked havoc as they twisted and then twined upward to giant territory. Whereas kudzu chokes out competitors by blocking sunlight, wisteria similarly wraps its woody vines around and strangles the life out of anything it attaches to. As gorgeous as its pendulous racemes are, it’s damaged a number of sidewalks and fences throughout Koriyama.

Bees swarm under a pergola laden with recently bloomed Wisteria in Ose Park

Bees swarm under a pergola laden with recently bloomed Wisteria in Ose Park

Fans of the more aggressive, hands/leaves-on flora would enjoy the 1962 film The Day of the Triffids (much like older zombie films, people can’t seem to react fast enough when there’s a Triffid a football field away moving at the breakneck speed of 4 mph) and its impressive 2009 BBC series remake, starring comedian Eddie Izzard as the swaggering, opportunistic villain. Most might draw similarities between the films’ killer carnivorous plants and the much less-threatening and -mobile pitcher plants.

A pitcher plant at the Shinjuku Botanical Garden

A pitcher plant at the Shinjuku Botanical Garden

However, the Triffids might have more in common with such plants as the nasty Manchineel and the Giant Hogweed, the latter capable of causing permanent scars and blindness upon contact.

Possibly the most well-known meat-digester is the voracious Manhattanite Aubrey II, the killer plant from outerspace in the 1986 musical Little Shop of Horrors. As inspiration for the film, Earth’s Venus Fly Trap’s mechanisms and evolution are not unimpressive (for example, two hairs must be triggered in order for the trap to close, as to avoid false alarms and thus wasting precious energy), but it will be a while until they begin singing let alone achieving world domination.

Lovely, deadly Lily of the Valley in Ose Park, Koriyama

Lovely, deadly Lily of the Valley in Ose Park, Koriyama

Minus the singing, spider plants in Hothouse, a sci-fi novel by Brian Aldiss, have taken advantage of the author’s unimaginable plot in which the Earth has stopped rotating. Other notable monster botanicals include the fixations of Neville Longbottom in the Harry Potter series (wisteria-like devil’s snare, Whomping Willow, puffapod, Mimbulus mimbletonia, and folklore-inspired mandrakes). J.K. Rowling’s honking daffodils even have a striking similarity to the overlarge, sneezing flowers in the 1991 film Hook, starring the late Robin Williams (recently Hulu’s top film of the week).

A lovely kudzu flower along the Abukuma River in Koriyama

A lovely kudzu flower along the Abukuma River in Koriyama

Finally, in a fantastic article published in Garden Design, Anna Laurent shed light on the subtle (and not-so-subtle) botanical references in Suzanne Collin’s Hunger Games series. Not just sci-fi and plant lovers but anyone can enjoy these fictional works and gain more of an appreciation for the phylum beneath our feet. And while Rocky Horror Picture Show features no such monstrous botanicals beauties, it’s a crime not to watch it nonetheless.

4 thoughts on “Monstrous Botanical Beauties of Fiction

  1. Pingback: The Poison City | The Japan Saga

  2. Pingback: Biodiversity from Pennsylvania to Fukushima | The Japan Saga

  3. Pingback: Botanical Book Review: Hothouse, The Long Afternoon of Earth | The Japan Saga

  4. Pingback: Why Do You Go Into the Woods? | Robin-Lee

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