Stopping by for the first time for the A-Z Challenge? Read a short intro to the A-Zs of Worldbuilding here!
Plants are something we interact with almost daily – unless you literally don’t walk out of your house even once. And that’s assuming you don’t keep any potted plants at all.
We rely on them for food production, for medicine, and for making the world beautiful. One of my favorite sights is a field full of wildflowers, or a patch of clover filled with honeybees, or the quiet, innocuous scattering of violets that likes to hide where you’d least expect it.
Plants serve many purposes – knowing which plants like what kind of soil will help one plant a bountiful garden. Certain plants will also help tell the pH of water sources, or show where unground water can be found – and how deep it is.
While not all your characters – or you – have to be adept at ‘reading plants’, you should have at least a few basics figured out.
What plants are most relied on for consumption?
You should include 1-3 of each of the following:
- Vegetables (Have at least one root vegetable, like carrots.)
What plants are used for seasoning?
- Herbs – plants where the leaves and stems (rosemary, thyme, oregano, cilantro, etc.) can be used either fresh or dried for adding flavor to food. Herbs are often medicinal as well.
- Spices – plants which are typically dried and ground up before use, but not always. Spices are also more likely to be derived from the seeds (coriander), roots (ginger – which is used both fresh, or dried and ground), and bark (cinnamon) of plants. They also have a stronger, more pungent taste than most herbs.
Some plants do double-duty: cilantro and coriander, for example. Cilantro is the fresh leaves of the plant, coriander is the seed.
What plants are considered a delicacy?
These are plants like:
- Artichoke – they take up a lot of space for very little yield, and are somewhat demanding in their growing environment.
- Anything that has a short growing season – a lot berries, for example, or asparagus.
- Anything that requires extensive labor to harvest – saffron, for example. It grows from a domesticated crocus that blooms in autumn, rather than spring, and the saffron itself is from the stigmas and styles of the flower. Really, it’s way more complicated than that. Just go Google it for full appreciation of that spice.
Don’t be afraid to use the same plants, and herbs, spices that we do, especially if you’re creating an earth-like setting. And there’s so many different, bizarre things in our world that you can already take advantage of and just tweak a little bit.
Most herbs and spices have medicinal qualities as well as culinary ones. Some are poisonous in too large of doses/servings, as well.
Some aren’t poisonous unless you mix them very specifically – and that’s when it can get interesting!
The most popular medicinal herb in science fiction and fantasy could likely be athelas – or Kingsfoil, from The Lord of the Rings.
Kingsfoil was the common name for athelas (this is its Elvish name), and in the peaceful Shire there was no need of its medicinal properties, so the Hobbits simply saw it as a weed and – literally – fed it to their pigs.
Almost everywhere else in Middle-earth, though, whether it was called Kingsfoil or athelas, they knew how to use it to draw poison out of wounds. And it was incredibly simple – all you needed to do was crush it, and apply it to the wound.
Look up some herbal medicine. Even if your societies are more advanced, and have medical facilities, state-of-the-art surgery theaters, and x-rays, I guarantee you that somewhere, where they can’t afford all of that or can’t access it for whatever reason, there’s a ‘wise one’ who knows how to cure almost anything with plants.
Not beauty as in cosmetics… but the beauty you see in nature when you stop staring at your computer screen and just go outside and look.
When was the last time you walked barefoot through a clearing? A week ago, I had the pleasure of walking through my backyard and feeling the cool, springy touch of a clover patch under my feet. Just watch out for bees!
I took a moment to look around my yard, and see what was happening since spring has now set in with full force. (If a bit later than it usually does here in Oklahoma. It was a rough winter.)
Wandering Jew is starting to come up around the house foundation, it was planted there by the previous owner.
My rose bush is putting out leaves. The crab-apple tree is losing the last of its pink blossoms and putting out new leaves.
There’s a couple of patches of violets that have popped in my yard – such a pale lavender that they’re almost white, but seeing their perky faces always makes me smile, though I know they won’t last much longer.
And just a few days ago, my yard was fairly purple as the henbit bloomed ferociously. Soon the irises will bloom.
But after spring comes summer, and that means the clover will actually start to bloom, grass will fill the yard, and wood sorrel will start to come up with its little yellow flowers. Wild oats with their silvery heads will fill the empty lot a few blocks down – they look a lot like shimmering waves in the Oklahoma wind – and I’ll once again plot how to harvest them so I can feed them to the chickens, and inevitably (again) before I can get any semblance of a plan in place, the city will beat me out there and mow it all down.
The point of all this?
The best inspiration you can find for plants is to go outside and look at them.
Use them to your advantage as you create your settings and your world.
Don’t be afraid to use the same plants that we do, especially if you’re creating an earth-like setting. And there’s so many different, bizarre things in our world that you can already take advantage of and just tweak a little bit.
And by all means, don’t forget to include the carnivorous ones!
Picture used in header is by LoggaWiggler, and is in the public domain.
My intention is to turn the A-Zs of Worldbuilding into a workbook after the Challenge is finished. If you’d like to stay notified about that, you can subscribe to my newsletter here. Please make sure and select the A-Zs of Worldbuilding option!