Thoughtful Thursday: Fantasy botanicals

Another year, another St. Patrick’s Day. Shamrocks figure highly in the symbolism of Ireland, which got me wondering about other such botanicals in the fantasy world — those plants with an outsize influence or symbolism.

My first thought, as it often does, went to Tolkien, in this case athelas, or as it is known to the “rustics,” Kingsfoil, or for those who know something of the Valinorian — asëa aranion. I suppose nowadays it would be considered an herbal supplement. (The card shown here comes from the LOTR card game.)

So as we all prepare for our own wearin’ of the green, I was wondering:

What are some of your favorite uses of plants in fantasy — whether for healing, intoxication, simple feeding, etc.?

One commenter wins a book from our stacks.

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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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  1. Some of my favorite uses of plants in fantasy are healing, poisoning, and cooking. This is because it’s based on our (realistic) plants, and the gardener in me finds their versatile uses to be fascinating.

  2. John Smith /

    I think mandrakes in the Harry Potter books add a nice touch of creepiness!

  3. SandyG /

    I like the Devil’s Snare in Harry Potter and how they have to think their way past it.

  4. I don’t remember if it is named, but the oxygen-producing flower Megan uses in A WRINKLE IN TIME is great.

  5. Noneofyourbusiness /

    I was sad that only one of Black Orchid’s seedlings survived in the eponymous miniseries by Neil Gaiman. A whole greenhouse of Black Orchids would have been interesting.

  6. The use of Elfbark Tea in Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy.

  7. The Distinguished Professor /

    The Thorian, or “Old Growth”, from the video game Mass Effect made a great enemy that you almost feel sorry for.

  8. E. J. Jones /

    I really do adore the Ents in The Lord of the Rings. I do hope their Entwives come back eventually. I don’t think we ever find out, unless it’s in The Silmarillion or something else I haven’t read.

  9. Lady Morar /

    I think the herb that goes into moon tea is a very practical plant, in George Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. I’ve read that a similarly effective contraceptive/abortifacient existed in Ancient Greece, but went extinct due to overharvesting.

  10. aliantha from the Covenant series

  11. Gillyweed isn’t my favorite, but it certainly could be useful. And weakweed and nightweed in the Spellslinger series are good herbal blends.

  12. Sethia /

    I love it when real plants are used in fantasy, willow bark is one of my favorites.

  13. _EJ Jonesif you live in the USA, you win a book of your choice from our stacks.
    Please contact me (Marion) with your choice and a US address. Happy reading!

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