Creating fictional plants – or even magical plants and herbs – is a great way to build detail into your setting. You can even use them to add conflict, adventure hooks, organizations and more! (Don’t believe me? Check out our 5+ uses for plants in your world setting!) And creating fictional plants isn’t as hard as you’d imagine.
Making fictional plants? Think about what they’re surviving on!
In the real world, most plants require sunlight, which they use to photosynthesise. If your biome doesn’t have sun, how do your fictional plants survive? Can they draw energy to create food from other sources, like magical fields? In our world plants usually also require minerals, which they draw from the soil, and water, which they source with their roots system!
However, there are a TONNE of really cool examples of plants in our world, which DON’T follow this trend. They make fantastic inspiration for your own fictional plants, too!
- Air plants, like Tillandsia, which can draw nutrients from the air with special leaves
- Plants that grow only in water, like spider plants
- Parasitic plants like the corpse flower (so called because it smells like a corpse!) which steal nutrients from nearby roots instead of photosynthesising!
- Carnivorous plants like the venus fly trap!
Any by-the-by, did you know that TOMATOES are carnivorous? They have developed to trap insects in their little hairs, which then die and enrich the soil. Cool, huh?
For an inspiring fictional example of interesting plant nutrition, check out the Bulbous Violet from Kobold Press’s Tome of Beasts 2. These meat drinkers are covered with black acidic growths which pop on impact, dissolving the violets’ prey. The plants then stand in the remains and drink in the liquefied goop through their viney roots.
LOOKING FOR A PRO TIP? Remember whatever species you’re making, from bacteria to space whales and yes, even fictional plants and fantasy herbs, World Anvil’s species worldbuilding template is full of prompts to help you flesh it out, and connect it to your world! Our software helps you with every section of your project, from “I have a cool idea”, to creating, organizing and referencing your world setting (by yourself or with a team), writing your novel, running your DnD campaign, and even marketing your world and products to the world!
Magical plants need biomes too!
So we’ve figured out what it eats, but when creating fictional plants, you’ll need to consider the environment your plant lives in, and how it survives those challenges! There are threats to any plant that we don’t even think about:
- Plants lose water through their leaves.
- In dry environments they might have waxy leaves
- Or they might develop spines to protect against water loss
- Too much water can cause plants to rot or even “drown” by cutting off the air to their roots
- Some places have varied seasons, which present unique challenges. How do your plants deal with winter, or a monsoon/dry season?
- Windy environments can also be challenging – both for water loss and because the plants get simply get blown away!
- And yet plants thrive even in toxic environments – from mangroves in saltwater swamps to the plants which survive in Lake Usoriko, Japan, a lake at PH 3.5 containing sulfuric and hydrochloric acid!
Whatever biome – consider how your plant will combat the difficulties!
DON’T EAT ME! How do your fictional plants defend themselves?
It’s an eat or be eaten world, and plants can’t run away – at least not usually! (Except bananas – did you know that they “walk”?)
So how will your plant protect itself?
- Maybe it’ll grow spines, or thorns
- Some plants, like nettles, can inject you with poison through those little prickles
- And other plants are fine to touch, but poisonous to eat
- In fact, Chilli peppers and coffee are two plants who developed their own natural insecticide. Unfortunately, humans found it delicious, and have been devouring them ever since.
But whilst developing spines, and spikes and poison is all well and good, plants can go another way with this too! Disguise!
- Lithops are plants which look like stones! They are truly a marvel of nature and an inspiration for creating fictional plants!
- Some plants even disguise themselves as more noxious brethren, to prevent themselves from being eaten! This is rather like a hover fly disguising itself as a wasp.
If you’re looking for more inspiration, the Pixie’s Umbrella from the Tome of Beasts 2 is an outstanding example of a natural defense mechanism. When it senses danger, these purple colonies of fungus leap and spin in the air. Or how about the Shiftshroom from the same publication – a delicious mushroom which metamorphoses to imitate a poisoned one!
Fictional Plants – the birds and the bees
So we’ve talked about what they eat, and how they survive. Now let’s talk about reproduction. Not to put too find a point on it, but plants want to get fertilized. And then they want their seed to travel far away from them. This is called Seed Dispersal, and in our world there’s a bunch of cool and unusual ways it works:
- Spinning seeds – like sycamore tree seeds
- Floaties – like dandelions
- Sticky seeds – or stabby ones – which lodge in an animal’s fur to fall out further away
- Many water plants, or even water adjacent plants, use water as a means of seed dispersal
- Fruits are designed to be eaten, so the animal poops them out far away (complete with their own little package of fertilizer!)
- Or how about ballistic dispersal where the plant LITERALLY FIRES THE SEEDS OUT?! This is one of my favourite because it’s super dramatic!
- There’s a kind of fungus called the cordyceps fungus which is literally mind-controlling. It’s fairly gruesome but very interesting. I won’t go into more details here, but it’s super interesting! And in fact, Kobold Press’s Ophio takes this to a whole new level, with mind-altering spores which force sapient creatures to carry them to other realms!
There are so many cool ideas for this, and I’m sure you can already imagine how this might affect the people in your world! If the seeds are especially big, toxic (or hallucinogenic, or more!) to humans, having one fired at you or fall in the drinking water would be really problematic.
Tip 5? Don’t forget non-traditional plants!
And my final tip for creating plants in your world, whether unique scifi plants or magical fantasy plants, is to remember the breadth of the plant kingdom – and even beyond! Think about incorporating:
- Water plants
- And whole plant colonies like the shivering aspen (yes, these guys are technically one plant)
And, of course, you can even go beyond plants, to explore the worlds of lichens, mushrooms, toadstools, moulds and fungus. Sure technically it’s a different kingdom, but there’s still a tonne of cool things you can do with those Fung-Ghis. 😉
Iiiiiiiiiit’s challenge time! Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is:Submit your worldbuilding prompt here! Remember to detail where the plant lives and how it survives there. And how it defends itself and how it reproduces too! You can submit your prompt here, and remember to check out other people’s entries, if they’ve chosen to make them public. There’s always someone doing something on World Anvil.
And make sure you check out Kobold Press, who kindly allowed me to share the amazing examples and art from their incredible publications. Tome of Beasts 2 (see below!) is AWESOME, guys, and full of unique and badass plant and animal species!
What’s your favourite weird plant? Please share in the comments – I LOVE THEM SO MUCH! <3