poetry and prose about place

a muse takes over – creating alien plant species

with 2 comments

When I was in university, we spent lots of time in botany courses discovering the concept of ‘form follows function’. This means that plants have adapted to their surroundings so almost every physical feature reflects the requirements of landscape and habitat. Good examples:

  • thorns discourage predators
  • tubular flowers to enable pollination by insects with long mouth parts
  • hairs on leaves help conserve moisture by blocking air flow


This concept is foremost in my mind as I try to populate my fictional planet Meniscus with plants. Plants are important to my story because my characters have to forage for their food (the main character, Odymn, is particularly good at finding food in the forest). My alien plants have to serve the purposes of the story. They also have to be credible and follow biological logic. Form must follow function.



This drawing of Odymn practicing her parkour in the woods shows two plant species on Meniscus — a banyan-like tree and ‘slag-fern’. This banyan is great for climbing and jumping!!!


Some sci-fi readers prefer authors not to invent new species, but to use our familiar species. I decided to create new species because my story is about what humans have lost when they were brought to an alien planet.  I plan to help my readers by including a glossary of alien plants in the back of each book.


Although they are alien, most of my plants are reminiscent of our species here on Earth. A good example would be ‘arbel’ a small woodland plant used to treat ailments on planet Meniscus. One of the chemical components of ‘arbel’ is ASA (acetylsalicylic acid or aspirin), making it similar to tea berry (Gaultheria procumbens), a plant common in our woods. I imagine ‘arbel’ to look like our woodland species trout lily (Erythronium americanum). Like trout lily, ‘arbel’ has edible corms.  Also like trout lily, ‘arbel’ has thick leaves to conserve water on a planet where surface water is rare.


'Trout Lilies'


Another of my alien plant species is a carnivorous club-moss, a dangerous inhabitant of the Themble Woods. Sheets of this moss crawl across the woodland floor, engulfing their prey.  I want to include carnivorous plants on Meniscus because our own carnivorous plants, such as the sundew (Drosera sp.), are so intriguing.  My carnivorous ‘club-moss’ has glands to absorb nutrients from its prey and touch-responsive tendrils to help it crawl through the forest. For a while I thought I would use carnivorous vines but I have seen too many movies where vines take over the earth!




Odymn falls asleep in the woods and is overtaken by a carpet of carnivorous club-mosses.



An earlier drawing showing vines attacking Odymn.


Following is a list of the plants I have planted on Meniscus.  Beverages to keep the folks on Meniscus awake are brewed from the leaves and berries of ‘thief-bush’!


plant description
arbel nodding woodland flower; corms edible
glasswort transparent, low-growing plant, adapted to the edges of the Churn
grammid tree with orange leaves and edible seed pods; smells like cinnamon
ransindyne plant grown for its edible root
slag-fern fern-like plant with leathery leaves
spenel small plant with edible berries
thief-bush bush with thick leaves and blue berries; used to make beverages
tussilago plant similar to colts-foot, used to sooth a cough
walking-vine vigorous vine native to the edges of the Darn’el desert
yarnel tree with edible fruit like pomegranate


This writing has given me new appreciation for the interesting and complex plants we have on our own planet!

Next post I will show you some of the animals on Meniscus!




Copyright 2017 Jane Tims  

2 Responses

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  1. Just getting caught up with you, Jane. I love this. 🙂 I would have no trouble believing in a carnivorous moss. We have some interesting mosses here that I could see going on the attack.

    Liked by 1 person


    February 3, 2017 at 11:29 am

    • Hi Robin. Yes, some of the trailing club-moss we have here seems almost intelligent the way it takes up every nook and cranny. All I know, thinking about challenges for my characters gives rise to most of my plants. Sustenance is an issue for them, so having a tree with pomegranate-like fruit is a must ( I love pomegranate)! Jane


      jane tims

      February 3, 2017 at 6:21 pm

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