What makes speculative fiction speculative? Of course there are creatures like dragons and space whales, races like elves and Klingons, and fantastical powers, be they technological or magical in origin. But none of these things could function without the plants that are the basis for life as we know it. And what better way to world-build a science fiction or fantasy universe than creating wild and wonderful plants and trees to populate it, or use real-life plants in intriguing ways?
In this post I will spotlight some of the most interesting plants from a variety of SFF books, both published and coming soon! Grab an herbal tea and settle in to learn about the fantastical flora that bring the magic to these tales.
The Dark Heart of Redemption
by Darran Handshaw
Darran M Handshaw writes sci-fi fantasy adventures in the ruins of a high-tech city with a main character who is a cross between MacGyver and Archimedes!
The Dark Heart of Redemption: With the Pyramid under siege and a deadly new threat that might destroy all of Redemption, it is up to the Engineer and the new Princess of Raedelle to unite the dominions in a battle that will determine whether civilization lives or dies!
This standalone sequel to The Engineer is coming soon!
The image to the left was created by Vladimir Rikowski.
The plant: Ardianteki, the Homeroot of the Kainai, and waythorn
The Homeroot is a massive tree in the Underforest that the Children live inside. Waythorn is a plant that has paralytic qualities and is used to coat blades in order to render enemies immobile without killing them.
They were led to a tree that, at first, Actaeon thought was a cluster of trees, so wide was its base. Its grayish-brown form towered above them – the branches a city for birds that stretched to the heavens. The bird sounds coming from above were a cacophony that made it difficult to hear.
The trunk was supported by roots that fanned out to the sides like great arches of a castle. Many of the roots originated above the ground so that beneath the tree was a maze of openings and tunnels. It was a massive one of these openings that they were led inside. It made Actaeon feel quite small. The Kainai guides led the way deep into the loam of the earth, down winding passages of moss and rock and root.
As the dim light of the Underforest faded, Actaeon realized that he could still see because of the light emanating from clusters of glowing green, phosphorescent mushrooms that grew in recesses along the passage they travelled. The intervals of the natural light sources were conveniently distributed such that Actaeon imagined they must’ve been grown purposely in those locations. The path finally opened to a tremendous room that was brightly lit by thousands upon thousands of the tiny glowing mushrooms. The majority of them grew from above, their roots clinging to the wood of a massive hollow in the tree’s trunk.
Most of the mushrooms glowed green, but there was a scattering of purple and blue phosphorescence as well. Actaeon quickly recognized that the purple and blue mushrooms were arranged in familiar patterns. He had seen them often on various artifacts around Redemption – symbols in the language of the Ancients that weren’t fully understood. “This place is fascinating,” he whispered.
Crown of Aster
by Emmaline Strange
Emmaline Strange writes queer fantasy & paranormal romance with cheeky tropes and boys just STUPID with love.
Crown of Aster: Immortal faun himbo sees nerdy neurotic disaster bi and thinks, “Huh! That’s a whole ass husband.”
Cover art by BEAR PETTIGREW AKA @CROSSROADART everyone should follow them and become obsessed with them!! The cover image is from a scene in the book with some smooch content in Adair’s secret grotto, which is like the Waitomo caves in New Zealand but like, hornier.
The plant: Nightshade Flowers
It’s a magic plant distilled by the fae folk into wine that makes you feel things. High concentrations can have more extreme violent side effects. Can be used as a painkiller/relaxant and unlocks the more base/instinctual part of the brain.
One woman, pale and so thin that her body looked like a skeleton wrapped in silver silk, bent down to kiss Adair’s cheeks. The thick black curtain of her hair concealed their faces and Nathaniel felt his own prickle of envy before she swooped in and kissed Nathaniel as well. Her lips were cold as ice, but her smile was fond. Her eyes glittered like black beetle wings, and she offered them each a crystal flute of something pale blue and glowing. Adair smiled and thanked her for them both. “Drink it,” he advised. “This will all seem to make a little more sense if you do.” He downed his in one, and Nathaniel watched in amazement as the now empty crystal flute disappeared in a wisp of smoke. Nathaniel held his own glass up to the light, squinting at the blue liquid. Adair nudged the glass aside, staring intently into Nathaniel’s face. “It’s the same color as your eyes,” he said, voice a throaty purr. Nathaniel frowned, looking back at Adair, whose own eyes now shone fever-bright.
Nathaniel took a hesitant swallow. It was cold like snowmelt, but seared his throat as it went down. He coughed and sputtered, barely registering the taste. Nathaniel noticed Adair’s hand crawling higher up his thigh. His breath hitched in his throat, recalling his worries from the night before, but he took another tentative sip from his glass. This time, he tasted blueberry and mint and the copper tang of blood. He tasted wood smoke and sea water, buttery biscuits and dark chocolate. With each swallow, Nathaniel felt lighter, warmer, more relaxed. His buzzing mind quieted, and the moss below him felt softer than the finest bedding, the clothes on his body like being wrapped in a cloud. Adair’s hand on his thigh was scorching hot, as were the faun’s lips, which were suddenly attached to the triangle of exposed skin below Nathaniel’s scarf. As tingles flowed from his scalp to his tailbone, Nathaniel’s doubts vanished and he downed the rest of his glass without question.
The 13th Zodiac
by L. Krauch
L. Krauch writes Epic “Final” Fantasy
The 13th Zodiac: Final fantasy with actual romance
Cover art by L. Krauch
The plant: The Mother Tree
The Mother Tree gave birth to mortal man, so to speak. A 1000 years before the events of Book One Mother Urth and Father Sky created man. This single moment caused Time to turn on Urth and forever change her into the Mother Tree.
The Titan of Fate let her bare feet rest against the thick roots. Her wings, one black and one white, folded behind her, the tips brushed the wood as she walked. She dismissed them with a flick of her wrist. Feathers rained down around her, disappearing into dust. Clouds twisted around the massive Mother Tree as it reached toward the sky, branches desperate to touch it. Within the Mother Tree, paths formed naturally.
A cloaked man trotted up to greet Fate. The Prophet Skylis was tall with short black hair. The markings of the kingdom of Aria—a phoenix clutching an apple—adorned his dark-brown cloak. He wore a dyed, blue linen tunic and simple slacks. Fate clutched the Spear of Stars in her hand, and together they approached a cave hidden within the boughs. “She’s here.” No emotion escaped her voice as Fate clutched a spear in her right hand. Holding the other to her chest, she took a deep breath to steady her nerves.
One thousand years had passed since she saw her ex-lover. She glanced at the Prophet and ran her hand through her black and white hair, parting the two colors directly down the middle. A year and a half passed since his daughter was born with the symbol of Eternity on her tiny shoulder. What Fate hadn’t expected was the Titan’s shattered soul to be reborn so soon. Fate knew deep down the girl was in danger, even with the Titan of Time trapped within.
“I can’t see anything. Are you certain?” Skylis ducked to peer into the cave. Twisted roots and overgrowth from the tree obstructed the way. The roots created a hollow opening under the tree, ready to suffocate those who would wander in. Rhythmic breathing came from within the cave. Then a laugh. He backed up, surprised by the sound.
“Yes, I’m certain.” Fate placed the spear behind her, between where her wings awaited her command. She stepped into the pitch black of the cave. Skylis followed. Darkness engulfed them as they continued deeper within. In the distance, a faint glow of light shone on a feminine form bound by twisted roots to the wall of the tree. A sharp female laugh echoed again.
“Fate, my love… you’ve finally come… to visit,” a voice spoke.
by M.A. Phillips
M.A. Phillips writes cozy Witch Lit featuring contemporary Pagan characters who practice realistic folk magic while also dating and holding down a 9-5 job.
The Rituals of Rock Bay trilogy: Follow Lacey and Cian, two modern Druids, as they navigate life, love, and the spirit world along the Saint Lawrence River.
The three covers for the series were designed by Jess and Chad Moon of Shadow Spark Publishing.
The plant: Rowan, or Mountain Ash
This is a baby rowan tree the author photographed in her backyard.
Rowan, or Mountain Ash, is a deciduous tree native to Europe and Asia, but introduced to the United States. Its white flowers develop into distinctive red-orange berries enjoyed by birds, cooks, and folk magicians. Associated with the Irish goddess Brigid, many witches and Druids work with this plant for its protective qualities.
Snippet from Forest Magic:
[Lacey] paused at the rowan tree on the edge of their property and pocketed some twigs waiting for her on the lawn with thanks.
“What’re those for?”
She patted her stomach. “Protection magic. With the baby coming, I need all the help I can get.” She skipped over the ditch and looked up.
Merchants of Knowledge and Magic
by Erika McCorkle
Erika McCorkle writes adult Epic Fantasy with a shit ton of worldbuilding crafted over the last two decades.
Series: The Pentagonal Dominion
Merchants of Knowledge and Magic: Merchant of knowledge Calinthe travels the world in search of secrets and to find a missing man.
Cover art by Bear Pettigrew, design by Jessica Moon.
The plant: Glowlight lotus
Picture of Calinthe, drawn by @DamiDraws_vt on Twitter.
The glowlight lotus is a climbing vine with pink lotus blossoms. The center contains a bulb full of bioluminescent material. Native to the tropics, but will grow in colder locations if tended to. Used as a light source by the people of the Pentagonal Dominion.
Glowlight lotus vines crawled across the tops of the shelves and along the railings, providing a splash of green and pink in addition to light with which to read by.
Hands Like Secrets
by Mariah Norris
Mariah Norris writes fantasy with showy, complex magic and villains who always have a point.
Series: The Seven Strands
Hands Like Secrets: When Saeli confronts the notorious assassin Rafel as he’s about to kill her High Priestess, she’ll have to choose between everything she’s ever worked for…or helping her people’s sworn enemy end a hundred years of war.
Cover art was done by the author, and the layout was done by Jessica Moon.
The plant: Tanathe weed
Tanathe is a dark green, spiny plant that grows pretty much everywhere on Verre (thus why it’s considered a weed), though wild tanathe is smaller, spinier, and not as potent as the cultivated variety. The leaves, when crushed into a powder and taken orally, temporarily boost a majahel’s capacity to use qi (Verre’s magic system). Typically it’s used by front line soldiers to cover a retreat or by individuals needing extra strength to create extremely complex weaves (spells). The plant is addictive, however, and using too much at once can cause a person to “burn themselves out”, basically meaning they can no longer do magic. Crimson Cowl raiders rely on it more than their Silver Mantle counterparts and always carry a stash of powder for emergencies.
Wild or cultivated tanathe can also be rolled into sticks and smoked, which doesn’t confer any magical benefits but does produce a potent high. “Smoking” is a vice among Mantle teenagers and is grounds for expulsion from Aschamon. In this context, tanathe functions the same in their world as marijuana does in ours. In Hands Like Secrets, this is the only context in which my main character Saeli has ever encountered the drug.
In Book 2, in order to finally weave Rafel’s bridge form, she will have to use it for its intended purpose.
I reach the top of the stairwell as a bell rings somewhere in the house.
Curious, I pause at the railing to watch a servant bustle across the foyer to the front door. He escorts several laughing guys from Tammar Hall inside. With a shock I feel all the way down in my toenails, I spot Yan amongst them. It hadn’t occurred to me that he might show up; had Fien not known, or had they not wanted to mention it? He’s wearing nice slacks and a white top, and he’s taken some pains to tame his normally unruly hair.
He looks good tonight.
I fold my arms on the rail, missing him more than ever. Should I go down and try to talk to him? Would he ignore me here too, in front of all his friends?
He and the other guys abruptly bend their heads together.
I lean further over the railing and see several dark bundles change hands, and they all wear shifty expressions now. I narrow my eyes, Rafel and my earlier musings momentarily forgotten.
The group disappears down a side hallway. Deeply suspicious now, I hang back for several minutes, then tiptoe down the stairs after them.
The hallway ends at a paneled den with no windows. I peek in and stagger back, choking and coughing. Acrid clouds of smoke creep across the threshold, and even the tiny breath I’d taken has set my energy nodes to tingling.
Burning tanathe weed. That’s a smell you never forget. I was afraid that’s what had been in those little packages.
Birth of the Storm
by Valerie Storm
Valerie Storm writes young adult fantasy, often with demons and always with DEATH AND TRAGEDY!
The book: Birth of the Storm (Demon Storm book 1): Is it possible for a creature like Kari to find happiness in a world that despises her?
Cover art by Ginka Jack. Cover design by Jessica Moon.
The plant: Demon Tree
It is a tree possessed by the soul of the original demon lord. It speaks to people it thinks it can manipulate (or gives impressions/feelings when it is too tired to speak) and has taken two souls by the start of the series.
A flicker of bizarre color brought her attention back down. The bark was no longer dark. Now it glowed with faint, white light, as if something lit it from the inside. Kari’s brows rose, then shot up as the color shifted again: ruby like fresh blood; sapphire, dark as the sea; violet, poisonous and lively.
They faded into each other gradually, until purple had turned to black, the color Kari had walked in on. She continued to stare, only moving closer when black had once again become white. The air warmed, making her arms pop with countless bumps.
She knew nothing substantial of Raziac Forest, save that demons were known to hide within its depths. Usually they were senseless, those unwilling or unable to make a home in the greater parts of Taris. They were content to hide here, occasionally disturbing the small human village nearby. Recently, she had learned of Zina’s existence as well.
This tree, though…what was it?
Another step put Kari within touching distance. She stared at the tree, searching the grooves within the bark for some sort of meaning.
She flinched as the music started again. It rang in her ears, sending her sprawling back. The shifting colors in the cracked trunk flashed, in sync with the lilting baritones. The ebony shine seemed even darker, lingering longer than the others.
The music came from the tree. She could see it in the invisible quiver of the leaves, trembling without even the slightest wind to move them.
“What are you?”
The tree continued to change, somehow humming its strange music. She couldn’t understand what this must mean.
I must touch it, she thought, a little feverish. If I feel it, maybe that will help me to understand.
The Flyblown Crusade
by T R Peers
T R Peers: The books of the Curriculum are science-fantasy, with a cybernetic Operative thrown headlong into a magical world without warning.
The Flyblown Crusade: The third novel of the Thelenic Curriculum, in which Amanda Devereux may have killed a country, and Thalia Daran must slay her own prejudices.
Cover art by Sean Harrington. https://seanharringtonart.com/
The plant: Jakille Root
Jakille Root is an unusual plant that grows only in the Southern Blastings of Abelia, a profoundly blighted place in which the usual flow of Aether, the stuff of magic, is disrupted. When mixed into food or drink, it completely cuts the imbiber off from their magical abilities until metabolised.
“Do you know something interesting about the magic the High Wizards use to transfer a pregnancy from one woman to another, Magister Thalia?” she said, draining what little of her wine she hadn’t spilled on receiving the blow.
“I- I didn’t mean… what?” said Thalia in confusion, still trying to comprehend the impulsive stupidity of what she had done and wondering if she could blame the wine.
“It is particularly dangerous for a woman under the effects of the enchantment to attempt to use their own magic,” said the Queen. “So whilst serving as Royal Surrogates, my ladies-in-waiting eat food and drink wine laced with Jakille Root, picked in the Southern Blastings. Completely harmless, of course, but it does prevent one from harnessing one’s Spirit for a few hours.”
With mounting horror, Thalia tried to summon up her magic, at least to cleanse the alcohol from her system so she could think clearly. It would not respond- she could feel the power there, but every time she tried to harness it it seemed to slip away. “But… but you drank the same wine as I did…” she gasped. Tondarin laughed, and stood up, a little unsteadily.
“Oh, Thalia, you misunderstand my intent. This isn’t some sort of clever plot to murder you- if I’d wanted you dead, I could have had the thing done a hundred times by now.”
The Surviving Sky
by Kritika H Rao
Kritika H Rao writes Hindu philosophy inspired science fantasy, usually!
The Surviving Sky: A Hindu philosophy inspired epic science fantasy where a husband and wife duo try to save their floating plant city from crashing into jungle storms while they try to save their deteriorating marriage.
The plants: A wide variety of magical plants!
They show up as possibilities in a magical universe, where their consciousness is manipulated. My world has a lot of plants that are common to our own, such as jasmines and eucalyptus etc, but also a lot of fantastical plants, some of which heal people, some which reveal the truth, and some that predict when a storm is approaching. In THE SURVIVING SKY, cities are wholly made out of plants, and these plants are manipulated by magical architects to sustain the city and its people.
The Alchemist: Dawn of Destiny
By L.A. Wasielewski
L.A. Wasielewski writes adult high/dark fantasy filled with snark and sass.
The Alchemist Trilogy: All Ryris Bren wants to do is be a simple alchemist…but Lady Destiny has other plans for him.
Cover art by Gabriela–BRoseDesignz
The plant: Moat Pearls
They are found on trunks of fallen trees and forest debris, as silvery spheres. (Think: bubbles of mercury) They grow in dank forests, the shadier the climate, the better. The bubbles are very delicate, and filled with thousands of tiny spores which, when the bubble film is broken, get carried on the wind, resembling smoke. The spores are used as an ingredient in Paralysis Poisons. As for the name? No one knows…because they don’t grow in moats at all! It confounds alchemists everywhere!
She followed him through the underbrush until they came upon a large fallen tree trunk, covered in tiny silver spheres. They glistened in the mottled light of the forest, like little jewels on a crown.
“Those are called moat pearls. If you eat it, you can ‘blow smoke’ from your mouth.”
“Well…not really. They’re little spore pods. If you break it open on your tongue, you can blow them out and it looks like wisps of smoke.” He plucked one off the bark and placed it on his tongue. His voice was garbled as he tried not to bite down on the object. “Shee? Washh…” He moved it around, nestling it in the side of his cheek. His face bulged outward as he maneuvered the sphere carefully, mindful not to pierce the thin membrane containing the spores until he was ready to do so. He finally bit down, forming his lips into an ‘o’ before expelling the cloud of spores into the air. It indeed looked like silvery smoke. Kaia had to admit, it was mesmerizing. The alchemist tracked his head from side-to-side, blowing a stream of ‘smoke’ onto the currents, even making a ring. Kaia laughed at his antics. When he was out of spores, he spat the empty pod onto the forest floor, wiping his mouth on his sleeve. “Give it a try.”
“I promise it doesn’t taste bad. In fact…it tastes kind of like chocolate.”
Blood, Fire, and Death
by Maria Blackrane
Maria Blackrane writes feminist grimdark with spice!
The book: Blood, Fire, and Death
The plant: Wolfsbliss
It has aphrodisiac properties. It’s native to Helvendias, originally found in the creepy forest called Tinsilor and named after the Wolf Goddess, who is more like a fertility nature spirit. It’s grown in the palace gardens and picked to use foe sex and fertility rites, and the “afterparty” orgies.
Yera picked Wolfsbliss from the gardens and dried the leaves into an incense. A plant often used in rites to induce lust and passion, although Thalia and Dillon needed no urging there.
Dozens of bodies were joined in the dance of primal lust, mouths open in climactic songs as old as time. The sounds of flutes and drums pulsed through the air, matching the rhythm of the movements and hearts beating with burning passion. The sweet incense reached Pensilea’s nose and made her heady. Eldurin caressed her bloodstained face. They joined hands and lowered themselves onto the cushions. This was how the Helvendians prayed, with lust and death.