Destructive Plants in Fiction
GENERAL OVERVIEW:
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Venus Fly Trap in Fiction: Audrey II, Little Shop of Horrors
Plants, especially those with destructive and harmful natures, have the uncanny ability to capture the imagination of writers of fiction and movies. Plants with unusual behavior or appearances have been the source behind many monstrous, man-eating plants in literature, as well as in movies. History has proven various times the severe illnesses plants can inflict on human beings, as a variety of deadly plants prove to be destructive to the human body.
Examples from fairy tales include the caterpillar in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland who sat on a mushroom similar to that of the fly mushroom (Amanita muscaria), which is reddish orange with white spots, and the symptoms Alice experienced are similar to the first signs of poisoning from this species – dizziness, delirium, intoxication, deep sleep or coma. The delicious, bright, shiny red apple that Pollan describes in The Botany of Desire is in fact the subject of much mystical ‘forbideness,’ as displayed in the Garden of Eden in describing fruit in general, with Dionysus’ connection to Johnny Appleseed in producing the gift of wine (Dionysus) and apples (Chapman), in mythology with the Apple of Discord thrown by Eris “for the most beautiful one” (Hera or Athena), and in the fairytale Snow White, in which a poisonous apple puts Snow White to sleep. Fictional carnivorous plants were also displayed, like in the film, Little Shop of Horrors, where Audrey Junior is the man-eating carnivorous plant; however, in actuality, flesh-eating plants really only have the capability of devouring insects and small mammals like Bladderworts (Utricularia spp.), Butterworts (Pinguicula spp.), Venus Flytraps, Pitcher Plants (Nepenthes spp.) and Birthworts (Aristolchia clematitis).

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Mandrake Root in Fiction, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
The Mandrake (Mandragora officinarum), a bifurcate, hairy root shaped like a devilish little person, was used in battle to the advantage of Hannibal. Around 200 BC, the general Hannibal waged an early form of chemical warfare by “retreating from the city and leaving a feast behind, complete with mandragora, a drugged wine made from the mandrake (which makes a powerful sedative). The African warriors drank and slept, only to be ambushed and killed with Hannibal’s troops returned (106).” William Shakespeare also reflecting on this event, created the role for this poison with the hands of the friar in Romeo and Juliet, in which he gave Juliet a mandrake-laced sleeping potion and made a grim promise. That promise revealed that Juliet would lay down as if she were dead, slowing down here nervous system, inducing something similar to a coma. Likewise, the mandrake also reared its ugly head in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in which Professor Sprout educates her Herbology class about the real effects of mandrake.


Historical examples also include the Castor Bean (Ricinus communis), which can be made into castor oil. In the 1920’s, Mussolini’s thugs “used to round up dissidents and pour castor oil down their throats, inflicting a nasty case of diarrhea on them (16).” Sherwood Anderson thus described the castor oil torture in a way that both amused the Fascisti and were chased wildly down the street, captured, assaulted, and injecting the bottle into his mouth. In
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Monkshood
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Monkshood in Fiction, Used to Kill Werewolves quickly
1866, British scientists also tested the Calabar Bean (Physostigma venenosum) on themselves, often called the “Scientific Martyrdom (18).” Coca (Erythroxylum coca), which produces cocaine, has the ability to “inspire humans to go to war, both against each other and against the plant, which may be its most deadly quality (22).” This led to a drug war, vying for either its legality or illegalness amongst the nation. History also shows that girls suspected of demonic possession and witchcraft during the winter of 1961 in Salem, Massachusetts, who displayed symptoms of convulsions, babbled incoherently, and complained of creepy skin sensations were bothered by Ergot
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Multiflora Rose in Fiction, Beauty and the Beast
(Claviceps purpura), a toxic fungus. Hellebore (Helleborus spp.), once popular in medicine, however all part of the plant are poisonous; so one theory about the death of Alexander the Great was that he had been given a medicinal dose of hellebore. “The First Sacred War (595-585 BC) is believed by some historians to have been won after a Greek military alliance poisoned the water supply of the city of Kirrha with hellebore. This would have been one of the first instances of chemical warfare in recorded history (118).” Also, an example of Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum) being used as a form of death sentence was in 399 BC with the Greek philosopher Socrates. He was convicted of corrupting the youth of Athens, along with other offenses, and so was sentenced to death. So when the time came, Socrates was brought a drink made from the poison, in which he drank. This led to a slow, gruesome death. Also timeless instances refer to armies using poisonous arrows, derived from various plants. There were even, mythologically, t
he Lotus plant which evolved in Greek mythology. A race of people called the lotus-eaters lived in an area that was dominated by the plant. The lotus fruit and flowers were said to be a narcotic that caused people to fall asleep in a peaceful deep sleep. Consequently, there are various examples in both history and fairytales, and stories throughout literature that refer to the destructiveness plants have on the human body by concluding devastating effects.
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Lotus in Fiction, Lotus Eaters on the Land of the Lotus Eaters, the Odyssey


More specifically, DESTRUCTIVE PLANTS that have been used in FICTION to a great extent with numerous examples include:

Mandrake - Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets 

Venus flytrap - Little Shop of Horrors

Monkshood - Greek Mythology with Medea and Theseus

Multiflora rose - Beauty and the Beast

Lotus- The Odyssey









QUOTES in FICTION regarding DESTRUCTIVE PLANTS:

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Mandrake Root
Mandrake:


So early waking,--what with loathsome smells,

And shrieks like mandrakes torn out of the earth,

That living mortals, hearing them, run mad;-- (Romeo and Juliet)

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Venus flytrap
Venus flytrap:


"Ambition is like a frog sitting on a Venus Flytrap. The flytrap can bite and bite, but it won't bother the frog because it only has little tiny plant teeth. But some other stuff could happen and it could be like ambition." (Jack Handy)

"I gotta find food for master.
Food I gotta find for master.
For master I gotta find food."
— Seymour Krelborn



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Monkshood
Monkshood:


"What is the difference, Potter, between monkshood and wolfsbane?"

I don't know," said Harry quietly. "I think Hermione does, though, why don't you try asking her?"

Sit down," he snapped at Hermione. "For your information, Potter, asphodel and wormwood make a sleeping potion so powerful it is known as the Draught of Living Death. A bezoar is a stone taken from the stomach of a goat and it will save you from most poisons. As for monkshood and wolfsbane, they are the same plant, which also goes by the name of aconite. Well? Why aren't you all copying that down?"

There was a sudden rummaging for quills and parchment. Over the noise, Snape said, "And a point will be taken from Gryffindor house for your cheek, Potter." (Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling)



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Multiflora Rose Thorns
Multiflora rose:


Oh, no man knows,
Through what wild centuries
Roves back the rose. (Walter de La Mare)

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Lotus Flower
Lotus:


but those who ate this honeyed plant, the Lotus,
never cared to report or return:
they longed to stay on forever, browsing on
that native bloom, forgetful of their homeland. (The Odyssey IX.100-104).







COMMON EFFECTS and USES among DESTRUCTIVE PLANTS such as mandrake, venus flytrap, monkshood, multiflora rose, and lotus include:

  • Carnivorous (Venus Flytrap)
  • Poisonous (Mandrake, Monkshood)
  • Addictive (Lotus)
  • Painful (Thorns on Multiflora Rose)
  • Deadly
  • Lethal
  • Destructive
  • Harmful
  • Appear in fiction, fairytales and myths as a kind of emblem to either ward off bad luck or evils.
  • Many, but not all, are too poisonous to consume, and if eaten, results in coma or death.
  • Grim
  • Result in illness due to consumption, brushing up against the plant or smelling it.
  • Destructive to the human body.
  • Dizziness, Delirium
  • Hallucinations
  • Intoxication
  • Deep sleep or coma.
  • Sedative effect
  • Amulet used as protection

CONCLUSION:

Destructive plants are all around us and surround us every single day. It is our choice whether or not we partake in their destructiveness, but sometimes, it comes without asking. Particularly in fiction, harmful plants have budged their way into the media in various ways via literature (specifically fiction in our case) and classic plays, poems and novels, cinematography, history, mythology and fairytales. Regardless, these plants have managed to either destroy or severely injure those characters in fiction that are subject to these plants' power. For example, Audrey II, the Venus flytrap in The Little Shop of Horrors, that seemed harmless and gorgeous to view through the window, was actually devastatingly carnivorous and lethal because she ate a couple of human beings and devoured Seymour's blood. The mandrake in Harry Potter was originally used to kill the Basilisk in the Chamber, and in addition, to let the piercing, high-frequency cries kill the Death Eaters in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows during the last battle. The multiflora rose seems beautiful in nature and shown throughout history to be an object of desire, but when viewed in light of Beauty and the Beast, this flower is one of doom, as the Beast needs to find someone to fall in love with him in order for the curse to be broken (i.e. when the last petal falls from the rose that is pictured in the glass case). The thorns, on the other hand, are severely sharp and without a doubt painful when pricked by one. The lotus, particularly seen in mythology, when Odysseus and his crew embarked on their journey to the Land of the Lotus eaters, are lured into an 'addictive' high from eating the lotus flowers. What seems like hours is actually days and what constitutes as time, is insignificant. Lastly, the monkshood is proven in mythology to be a very lethal poison. Specifically with Theseus, who was victorious in battle, would have a banquet by Medea, however, she planned to poison him with monkshood in his wine, which contains the alkaloid aconitine. That means he would have an immediate cardiac arrest and die on the spot, but evidently his father stopped Theseus from drinking the monkshood-poisoned wine and punished Medea for her crime. Thus evidenced in fiction, plants are highly destructive when used in a lethal manner and when taking the right ingredients with the right plant to concoct very deadly poisons. In essence, these specific plants our group has researched are very destructive, and are proven in fiction to be just that: DEADLY!