Updated: Jul 15, 2019
In the future postulated in my upcoming book, If Wishes Were Spaceships, carnivorous plants are presumed extinct, yet someone has resurrected them (probably from tissue samples). We hear a lot of GMOs these days, but genetic alteration of plants in labs is not a new thing. Plant breeders have been doing it to flowers for ages. It takes time to breed and select plants the old fashioned way and hope for some variation that’s good, eventually, maybe. Many of the hybrid garden flowers we see now are the result of genetic manipulation, bombardment with radiation, or chemicals — anything to force a genetic change. Not all changes are good; those not deemed interesting or beautiful are discarded, and only the flowers the breeders want are kept for further breeding. So we’ve ended up with flowers with many times the number of petals found in nature, flowers with monsterous heads too heavy to be held upright on their stems, flowers in colors not found in their natural state, flowers that are bigger and bigger, and bolder and bolder, and sometimes stranger and stranger…
So, it wasn’t too much of a stretch to imagine that sometime in the far distant future and in a far distant place, that someone would create giant carnivorous plants. But could such a creation function like its much smaller ancestors did? I think not. But the possibilities are tantalizing for a fiction writer. Giant carnivorous plants are a staple of pulp sci-fi.
There are, in real life, carnivorous plants that are big enough to catch a small rodent, but these are fairly rare. In fact, carnivorous plants in general are pretty rare — and endangered — in their natural habitats. Those venus flytraps you sometimes see in garden centers are propagated in labs and greenhouses. But what if they were big…would they truly be dangerous? Well, no, probably not. I took a slight liberty in the way they operate in the book, having only a single trigger in the trap have to be hit to make it the trap close, but even so, as our protagonist, Jazlyn, notes: “These plants didn’t evolve to eat prey the size of human beings.” The plants were designed by humans, shaped by human desires, not by the requirements of the environment. That’s an important thing to keep in mind. The whole planet was designed to meet a specific human whim.
In addition to making the plants big — and really, they’d be totally harmless if they weren’t — I also hint that they may be aware in a way that plants usually are not (at least not that we know of). Jazlyn catches herself anthropomorphizing them and speculating on sentience. Although Jazlyn is a pilot and a business person, her mother is a botanist. So Jazlyn tries to observe the plants, to document them and their behavior. Her mother belongs to a future Buddhist sect which believes in the sentience of plants. Jazlyn doesn’t share her mother’s beliefs, but these plants make her wonder.
They made me wonder as well….so a sequel is in the works featuring Jazlyn’s Buddhist botanist mother. Next week I’ll take a look at the subtle affect technology has on the way the characters and story in The Tech Between The Lines. The previous post on If Wishes Were Spaceships is Microcosms.