Invasive Plants of Literature

Have you ever recoiled in horror from a plant?

Chances are that the answer to that question is no.

Plants by their sedentary nature aren’t very scary, however, that hasn’t stopped writers from across history using them as central features in their novels, with the intention of eliciting fear. Of course, as with many things, the degree to which something is considered ‘scary’ will depend largely on context. A simple weed growing in a back garden may not be deemed that frightening, however, given the right context that plant can be a real fixation of fear for a homeowner.

Take an invasive plant such as Japanese knotweed, a plant that has the capability of knocking up to 10% off the value of a home (thanks to Knotweed Help for the research!). This plant is by no means frightening when looked at from a distance, but when you take into account the damage that it could cause to a person’s fortune, it’s not hard to imagine this plant becoming a staple in some homeowners’ nightmares. Getting rid of Japanese knotweed can be a gargantuan task, so it’s unsurprising that this plant could be considered so frightening by certain folks – it’s all about context!

The following four works all used plants in some shape or another to elicit fear:

Day of the Triffids

The classic sci-fi tale of a world taken over by sentient plants, The Day of the Triffids is considered a landmark story in British science fiction that explores a post-apocalyptic world that has become overrun by the titular plants. It’s posited by the main character that the plants originated in the USSR, before becoming farmed on an industrial scale to produce a much prized chemical, this leads to them amassing large numbers, before making a claim for world domination.

War of the Worlds

John Wyndham cited The War of the Worlds as a major influence when writing The Day of the Triffids, and it’s not difficult to see those influences when reading H. G. Wells iconic classic. Wells’ contemporary setting and scientific style makes for a compelling read that sidelines characterisation in favour of meticulous detail. In the second part of the book, a red weed begins to grow wherever the invading force of Martians appear. Although this plant matter is thought to be a part of the invading force, the Martians soon appear to be weakened by the red weed, leading to their eventual downfall.

Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets

Screaming Mandrakes and a Whomping Willow play small but pivotal roles in J. K. Rowling’s second iconic adventure in a novel that takes the first step towards a darker tone that would come to dominate the series towards the end of its run. Unlike the sentient plants of The Day of the Triffids, the Whomping Willow does not have the same power of locomotion, however it still causes Ron and Harry a fair bit of trouble on their return to Hogwarts. The rather hideous Mandrakes are introduced during a Herbology class, but prove to be useful later on in the tale when their roots are used to revive ‘putrefied’ students.