Genre fiction is full of creepy-crawlies that go bump in the night. From bizarre plants that talk to their owners, to sentient forests and plant-like space invaders, our fear of the natural world reclaiming the manmade one has seeped out of our subconscious into creative media.
The trope of the strange, deadly plant in science fiction and fantasy is a fun one, and you’ve probably seen it before. Here are some of the most famous examples.
1. Human-Shaped Flowers (Annihilation)
In 2018’s Annihilation, an alien entity lands on earth and begins to alter the landscape. A team of scientists go inside this cordoned-off area and discover that some of the plants have grown into the shape of humans.
Tessa Thompson’s character Josie explains that these plants have been created through a rogue HOX gene. In layman’s terms, the HOX gene is what determines how many noses, eyes, arms, and legs we have (and where they grow).
But in an article for the Wyss Institute, scientists Pamela Silver and Jeffry Way explain that this use of the HOX gene in the film (and the mystery surrounding it) doesn’t make sense:
HOX genes are the master genes that control the body plan of animals from flies to humans, but not plants. Any self-respecting biologist investigating the Shimmer would carry a hand-held DNA sequencer. These really exist. The biologist would feed a sample into the sequencer, and would then know for sure that there are HOX genes in the plant, as well as all the other human genes that might be present. A complete sequence analysis could be available in a few hours, and this is actually not science fiction.
2. The Thorian (Mass Effect)
If you’ve played Mass Effect and you have fond memories of the first game, you might remember the core mission world: Feros.
As an ecumenopolis covered in Prothean ruins, the bioengineering company ExoGeni has set up a colony on Feros to study the chemical components in the atmosphere.
You and your team later learn that ExoGeni is there to experiment on the mind-controlling properties of a giant, sentient plant.
Also known as “Species 37,” the Thorian is a fifty-thousand-year-old creeper that hangs from its tendrils in an empty air duct. These tendrils spread out across most of the planet, and the spores that it releases turn everyone around it into thralls.
3. The Forest Walkers (Uprooted)
If you haven’t read Naomi Novik’s Uprooted yet, give it a look. A fantasy novel set in the mythical kingdom of Polnya, the main character Agnieszka lives in an isolated farming village surrounded by a mystical, dangerous forest.
Partially sentient, fully malevolent—and able to turn human beings into thralls like the Thorian—the forest uses a type of creature called “Walkers” to collect its prey.
These Walkers are plant-like monsters that roam the edges of the wood to kidnap people and entomb them inside the trees. Alive.
4. The Venus Flytrap (Little Shop of Horrors)
A comedic horror film from 1986, Little Shop of Horrors follows a florist who discovers that his venus flytrap is sentient.
After he gets into a spot of trouble, he begins to feed it bodies to dispose of them. The flytrap, ever ravenous, grows larger and larger until it comes for him too.
5. The Ents (The Lord of the Rings)
When Lord of the Rings hit theaters back in 2001, most of us lost our minds. Many die-hard fans had been waiting decades to see the live-action adaptation…
…and one of the most stunning CGI scenes came from the second movie, The Two Towers, when giant tree-like creatures ripped Saruman’s castle to shreds.
Part-animal and part-plant—or at least, that is what we are led to assume—the Ents are the guardians of Fangorn Forest. Fangorn itself is also sentient, and it can move across the landscape and consume nearby objects in its path.
6. The Space Invaders (Day of the Triffids)
Even older than Little Shop of Horrors is 1962’s The Day of the Triffids. In a setup that now seems eerily similar to The Walking Dead, a navy officer wakes up in the hospital to discover that Earth has been invaded by plants called “Triffids.”
They came to earth via meteor shower, and they use their stingers to immobilize their prey and eat them. This meteor shower has blinded most people on earth, making them vulnerable to attack.
As a result, the officer must escape the hospital and make his way to safety until he finds a method to kill the creatures.