Trees get all the glory (lamentations for cacti)


This is probably going to sound kind of unhinged, but has anyone else noticed that trees get all the vegetational glory in SFF tales? Mirkwood and Lothlorien and Fangorn Forest and the ents, wood nymphs, Hogwart’s Forbidden Forest, Sherwood, the Great Woods of Narnia, even the Hundred Acre Wood – legendary and fantastical fictional woods abound.Mirkwood

Mushrooms, I think, also have a traditionally rich presence in fantasy. Faerie circles are a well-historied thing, and many video games have featured mushroom folk or forests of giant shrooms.


Of course flowers have their place. Alice learns a lot of things from the flowers. The poppy was launched to literary and cinematic glory with its prominence in The Wizard of Oz, and the rose is such an ubiquitously employed bloom that I don’t even feel the need to enumerate some of its notable appearances.

What about the noble cactus? Surely there’s more room for strange cacti in speculative fiction? The only tale that comes to mind for highlighting the vegetable mainstay of so many desert ecosystems is Clark Ashton Smith’s “The Abominations of Yondo.”

It was noon of a vernal day when I came forth from that interminable cactus-forest in which the Inquisitors of Ong had left me, and saw at my feet the gray beginnings of Yondo. I repeat, it was noon of a vernal day; but in that fantastic wood I had found no token or memory of a spring; and the swollen, fulvous, dying and half-rotten growths through which I had pushed my way, were like no other cacti, but bore shapes of abomination scarcely to be described. The very air was heavy with stagnant odors of decay; and leprous lichens mottled the black soil and russet vegetation with increasing frequency. Pale-green vipers lifted their heads from prostrate cactus-boles and watched me with eyes of bright ochre that had no lids or pupils.


  1. Cacti are only native to the New World. No reason for them to be in Old World legendry. Thus, why JRRT took tomatoes out of the second edition of THE HOBBIT (he simply couldn’t force himself to do away with potatoes and tobacco, though). Howard has no New World plants in his Hyborian Age tales (with one possible exception). Also, cacti are just physically weaker than trees. Relatively fragile and restricted in their ecological niches. Yes, you do sound a little unhinged.

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