Georgia O'Keeffe once said that no one takes the time to look at flowers. It's true that, while appreciated for their beauty, flowers aren't regarded as "serious" plants. Maybe that's why so many authors turn flowers into plants that are powerful, dangerous, and magical. In honor of Spring, here are some of our favorite fictional flowers.
Simbelmynë, from The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
Tolkien's books are filled with fictional plants, the most famous being the Ents, giant talking trees. Among the flowers of Middle Earth, however, simbelmynë is probably the most symbolic. Simbelmynë is a small white flower that most people would probably pass by without a thought, if they didn't know that it grows only on the graves of the Kings of Rohan. Tolkien derived the name from Old English which loosely translated, means "evermind," a kind of Middle Earth version of a forget-me-not, though the simbelmynë's appearance is closer to that of a daisy.
Photograph by Simon Garbutt
Moly, from The Odyssey
Moly is a flowering herb that Hermes gave to Odysseus to protect him while he was a prisoner on Circe's island. It's described as having small white flowers, similar to a snowdrop. No one knows what plant moly really is, though, or if it even existed in reality. Many scholars think it's purely magical, while others think it was a medicinal herb that served as an antidote to psychotropic drugs (the kind that might make you think you'd turned into a pig, for example). "[T]he gods call it Moly, Dangerous for a mortal man to pluck from the soil, but not for the deathless gods," Hermes tells Odysseus. In Tennyson's The Lotus Eaters, the characters rest on beds of moly and amaranth.
Illustration by Peter Newell
The Flowers from Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll
These flowers are true Wonderland, the exact opposite of what you would expect in the logical world. While flowers in our world are pretty, harmless, and silent, these flowers talk and are pretty rude.
"`It’s my opinion that you never think at all,’ the Rose said in a rather severe tone. `I never saw anybody that looked stupider,’ a Violet said, so suddenly, that Alice quite jumped; for it hadn’t spoken before."
See? Rude. The 1951 Disney movie version of this scene may or may not have terrified us as children.
WW Denslow, 1900
Deadly Poppies from The Wizard of Oz by Frank L Baum
One of the most memorable scenes in cinematic history is Dorothy, the Tin Man, Scarecrow, and Lion running through a field of poppies toward the Emerald City, only to be overtaken by sleep. While Baum did base his poppies on an actual flower–the opium poppy–and the flowers in the book resemble the common red poppy. The poppies in Oz are far from common. They are magical and deadly, larger and more beautiful than any poppy in our world. Once they blossom, they never wilt or die, and their soothing scent lures unwary victims into a trance-like state that can only be cured by physically removing them from the poppy field.
Once again an author has taken an innocuous, common flower and turned it into something dangerous. Speaking of dangerous flowers...
Triffids, from The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham
"What is a triffid?" you might be saying to yourself. The answer is: carnivorous flowers that can walk around on their roots. Their petals have a sticky trap for insects. As if that wasn't enough, they also have a prehensile stinger filled with venom that can kill a person instantly. After they kill their favorite food–humans–they root down next to their prey and feed on the body as it decomposes. They're also quite tall, standing around 7 feet.
Chances are you're familiar with them in concept if not in original form. Simon Clark wrote a sequel, Night of the Triffids, in 2001, and Day of the Triffids has been adapted to the screen six times. Triffids appeared in Final Fantasy XIII, Minecraft, and the Simpsons video games, and Marvel turned the story into a single-issue comic. They're arguably one of the most influential flowers to ever grow out of a writer's mind.