Sunday, May 6, 2012

Plant Oddities

In “Origins of Atlans”, I hypothesized the ship’s botanist had discovered a ‘snowball’ planet where the temperature was so cold, the native plants accepted fertilization by any other plant, and even by more than one. Consequently, all the plants were fairly similar, and yet, no two plants were the same.
I’m not a xenobotanist. I’m lucky if I can keep my houseplants alive. I created those plants and their unusual sex practices to serve a purpose within the story. I cringed at such whole-cloth imaginations, sure somebody would call me to task for wandering so far from the known facts about plants.
But the plants we know are Earth plants. At one time, we didn’t believe there was any possibility of plants existing on other planets, unless that planet was a twin for Earth. Fairly recently, that notion has been reconsidered. All sorts of life has been found in the superheated water surrounding submerged volcanic vents, as well as in and around the stinkpots of hot water that can be found in the company of geysers.
The plants I had made up didn’t live on an over-heated planet; they lived on a frozen planet. Does Earth have plants that live at the poles? No, I haven’t found any mention of any. But there are several plants that live in the tundra area of the arctic circle, and it gets pretty bitterly cold there. They may not bloom and thrive during the long dark winter, but they do survive.
Perhaps my imaginary frozen planet plants are not quite as fanciful as I first feared. Perhaps a planet of roughly earth size but located in an orbit analogous to Mars or the asteroid belt would have enough atmosphere/ice water to make it possible for plants to have evolved. Not exactly plants like trees and shrubs and roses, but something that managed to live, even at those temperatures. I briefly pondered about sap freezing and bursting the cells, but all sorts of plants on Earth manage to survive the winter without that happening.
Perhaps these plants create their own antifreeze. Earth plants are carbohydrates, as I understand it, and alcohol can be made by fermenting the carbohydrate we all know as sugar.
I don’t know how scientific that explanation might be, but I like it. Mainly because on the Atlan planet, I’ve introduced ‘drunk-berries’. If somebody mistakenly eats unripe drunk berries, they find them overly sweet, but they are ingesting a poison that will definitely make them ill, and possibly kill them. Ripe drunk berries are routinely juiced, and the juice bottled as a ready-made wine, still sweet but also powerfully alcoholic.
It seemed like a good idea at the time.

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