Have you ever fallen on your butt after the stem of a particularly stubborn weed snaps? And after that happens, do you find yourself glaring at the stubborn root taunting you from the ground? Almost certainly, you’ve considered getting up right then and there, marching inside and doing something more enjoyable, like, I don’t know, writing, perhaps? Maybe you’ve even thought to yourself, “These weeds bring me so much trouble, the least they could do is pay rent.”
Well, you’re in luck, because now they can! At least, if you get paid for writing. Otherwise, they can at least give you some good inspiration for your personal creative projects. Keep reading to see how you can use mother nature’s creations to your advantage.
What Is A Weed?
A plant becomes a weed when it grows somewhere it’s not wanted. Sure, there are some plants that are more likely to be considered weeds than others, such as invasive species, Or ones with undesirable characteristics, like poisonous plants in your backyard, or competitive vines in your garden. But at the end of the day, all plants have the capability of becoming weeds.
This concept in and of itself can make for a plethora of interesting premises. Perhaps your quirky main character’s favorite flower is generally considered a pesky weed. Maybe they discover that one man’s weed is another man’s treasure when the answer to their problems has been the stubborn vine growing in their backyard all along. Or maybe it’s more subtle, a symbolic representation of how something widely hated can find love.
If you want an example, the manga Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind beautifully showcases how unwanted plants can drive an extremely powerful narrative.
My mother told me growing up that if you let the dandelions take over your yard, the grass would turn spotty and yellow. Of course, she didn’t mean it literally, but I thought the color-changing power these plants held was cool, albeit a little intimidating. In reality, dandelions are just a notoriously common and stubborn weed.
Besides being difficult to get rid of and taking over your front lawn, dandelions actually aren’t so bad. From its deep roots to the bright yellow flower, every part of this plant is edible. The leaves make a good addition to a salad, and apparently, you can batter and fry the flowers. They’re also just really pretty, and the whimsical experience of blowing the puffy seeds to be caught in the wind is something anybody of any age can appreciate.
You could exemplify Grandma’s woodsy vibes by having her serve some dandelion root tea to her guests. Your goofy teen could find joy in chomping the flowers whole, to confuse their friends or intimidate strangers. The duality between childhood nostalgia and a hardened adult could also make for a compelling and relatable theme.
Whether you’re looking at a thick hairy vine crawling up a tree, or mitten-shaped leaflets scattered across the ground, poison ivy is a bother. While I have a personal disdain for vines, the primary deterrent of this plant is the oily substance called urushiol. While some react more strongly to it than others, urushiol gives most people a nasty rash.
Poison ivy can make for good character inspiration. I know because there’s literally a popular character named Poison Ivy throughout DC comics such as Harley Quinn: The Animated Series: The Eat. Bang! Kill. Tour #1. Now that doesn’t mean that the creative well has run dry, of course. Fortunately, or unfortunately, there’s plenty of poison ivy to go around.
People love making their characters suffer, so why not have them lean against one of the vines, or walk through a patch of it in shorts? Maybe your character’s overconfident, boasting about their immunity without realizing the more you touch poison ivy, the more likely you are to develop a sensitivity to it. The rash would certainly knock them down a peg, and the reader would learn an important lesson about humility.
After poison ivy, stinging nettle might seem a little redundant. Why would I bother including another plant whose primary concern is skin irritation? Not only does this plant’s shape differ greatly from poison ivy, But its mode of attack is meaner. Stinging nettle works by doing just what it says it does. It stings you with the small, needle-like hairs protruding from its stem. This in and of itself is painful, but the variety of chemicals it injects into the skin keeps the sharp burning sensation going. They can also get up to seven feet tall, though most of the time, I’ve seen them somewhere between two and five.
Trekking through large fields of stinging nettle would almost certainly make an adventure more perilous, And if you want your character in non-lethal pain, even just the smallest touch can lead to a world of regret. You could also think bigger, and create fictional plants based on stinging nettle that are more painful or lethal. Could your fictional party of friends muster up the courage to walk through that field if they knew one prick could kill you?
That’s not the end of it, though. The scariest fact that makes stinging nettle stand out from poison ivy? You can eat it. Cooking the plant negates the painful hairs, and you can enjoy the leaves and stems in a variety of ways. I don’t know about you, but I think eating something with the potential for that much pain takes a level of courage and bravery suitable only for heroes and foragers.
I’m not advising eating stinging nettle. I’ve never done it, and the thought of it terrifies me. I’m just telling you it’s possible.
If the thought of seven-foot poisonous plants was too much for you, you might want to skip this one. Giant hogweed lives true to its name, with its ability to grow over 15 feet tall. Not only is it over twice as tall as stinging nettle, but it’s arguably more dangerous. The sap of these plants is phototoxic, meaning that if you get it on your skin and step in the sun, it’ll give you nasty burns.
Giant hogweed is terrifying, which makes it a perfect candidate for inspiration. You could make them even bigger, like giant forests with canopies made from their white flowers. Personally, the phototoxic properties make me think of vampires, who’d handle the plant without fear knowing they wouldn’t be in the sun anyway. Perhaps the plant could serve as a deterrent for all the diurnal creatures of the world, a barrier to protect nocturnal, mythical creatures? There’s plenty of room to get creative!
Another fun fact is that while giant hogweed is invasive to North America, it wasn’t brought there first. Britain actually imported it, about 100 years before its arrival in the U.S. in the early 1800s. If you need more proof that nature’s truly the best inspiration, check out the novel Curse of the Giant Hogweed. It’s a story about a British professor that moves to Wales to find a solution to this noxious weed and ends up in a fantasy land.
The first notes I have about this one are ew, ew, and ew. In general, there’s nothing about them that’s particularly worse than most of the others. They’re toxic to eat and can cause some skin irritation, sure. The reason I don’t like them, though, is because of the strange, root-like suckers that help adhere to surfaces they climb. The way they dig into little nooks and crannies, that reddish hue at the ends that makes them look almost fleshy, it disgusts me. I just can’t help but be creeped out… by the Virginia creeper. Get it?
Bad joke aside, I think vines can be off-putting, and almost scary in the right environment. The Virginia creeper can cling to the sides of your house, grow through your walls, and out again. It could be used to really sell the vibe of an unkept, abandoned home.
But there’s also an interesting duality to the Virginia creeper. Despite its flaws, people will grow it intentionally for the pretty red-to-maroon color it sports in the fall. Perhaps it would work well to mark the changing of seasons or represent an unexpected transformation. The choice is yours to make.
Want more ways to tie nature and writing together? Check five trees to write about here!