The best books on plants in science fiction

Katherine E. Bishop Author Of Plants in Science Fiction: Speculative Vegetation
By Katherine E. Bishop

Who am I?

Plants in science fiction really grew on me while I was finishing my doctorate in literature from the University of Iowa. Stumbling on fin de siècle stories about monstrous plants, I fell down the rabbit hole and was hooked; however, I started truly digging into speculative vegetation after moving to the verdant island of Kyushu, Japan to teach literature at a small liberal arts college. Soon, I was speaking and publishing widely on topics ranging from vegetal time and arboreal horror to plant-centric communication – all of which gravitate around the idea of turning the leaves of our world to try to see things in a different way. 


I wrote...

Plants in Science Fiction: Speculative Vegetation

By Katherine E. Bishop (editor), David Higgins (editor), Jerry Määttä (editor)

Book cover of Plants in Science Fiction: Speculative Vegetation

What is my book about?

Plants have played key roles in science fiction novels, graphic novels, and film. John Wyndham’s triffids, Algernon Blackwood’s willows, and Han Kang’s sprouting woman are just a few examples. Plants surround us, sustain us, pique our imaginations, and inhabit our metaphors – but in many ways they remain opaque. The scope of their alienation is as broad as their biodiversity. And yet, literary reflections of plant life are driven, as are many threads of science-fictional inquiry, by the concerns of today.

Plants in Science Fiction is the first-ever collected volume on plants in science fiction. Its original essays argue that plant life in SF is transforming our attitudes toward morality, politics, economics, and cultural life at large; erecting – and dismantling – new visions of utopian and dystopian futures. 

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

The Day of the Triffids

By John Wyndham,

Book cover of The Day of the Triffids

Why this book?

My good friend (and co-editor) Jerry Määttä might have a bone to pick with me if I left this classic off of the list. And for good reason! Not only is it one of his favorites (check out his work on Wyndam in our collection and elsewhere), it is one of the first books people tend to think of when they think of plants in science fiction, heck, when they think of plants in literature! It is a sensational book about ambulatory plants that have jumped up the food chain, turning people into salads. A fairly early offering in the genre, Wyndam’s classic has influenced untold novels, movies, and graphic novels. It still packs a mean sting, too! 

The Day of the Triffids

By John Wyndham,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Day of the Triffids as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When Bill Masen wakes up in his hospital bed, he has reason to be grateful for the bandages that covered his eyes the night before. For he finds a population rendered blind and helpless by the spectacular meteor shower that filled the night sky, the evening before. But his relief is short-lived as he realises that a newly-blinded population is now at the mercy of the Triffids.

Once, the Triffids were farmed for their oil, their uncanny ability to move and their carnivorous habits well controlled by their human keepers. But now, with humans so vulnerable, they are a potent…


Annihilation

By Jeff VanderMeer,

Book cover of Annihilation

Why this book?

Jeff VanderMeer is so well known for connecting Nature and the Weird that he has been called “the weird Thoreau.” This resonance with uncanniness, strangeness, and surreality can be seen throughout much of VanderMeer’s oeuvre, from the mushroom detectives of his Ambergris series to the blooming deer of the Southern Reach Trilogy (of which Annihilation is the first book). He’s so well-versed in the odd that Benjamin Robinson titled his excellent book on VanderMeer’s fiction None of This is Normal

Annihilation was my gateway into VanderMeer’s wondrous mind. It is mostly set in the liminal space known as Area X, where even known knowns like species and time become unknown. It’s a love letter to the unknown; it’s a note from the brink of climactic climate change. It’s weird. It’s wonderful. Bonus: Alison Sperling and I both wrote about it in my own book. There’s even a movie based on it starring Natalie Portman. 

Annihilation

By Jeff VanderMeer,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Annihilation as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'A contemporary masterpiece' Guardian

THE FIRST VOLUME OF THE EXTRAORDINARY SOUTHERN REACH TRILOGY - NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY ALEX GARLAND (EX MACHINA) AND STARRING NATALIE PORTMAN AND OSCAR ISAAC

For thirty years, Area X has remained mysterious and remote behind its intangible border - an environmental disaster zone, though to all appearances an abundant wilderness.

The Southern Reach, a secretive government agency, has sent eleven expeditions to investigate Area X. One has ended in mass suicide, another in a hail of gunfire, the eleventh in a fatal cancer epidemic.

Now four women embark on the…


Rosewater

By Tade Thompson,

Book cover of Rosewater

Why this book?

Multiple award-winning Rosewater had me hooked from the start: a fungal network of alien lifeforms that allows the protagonist Kaaro access to others’ minds? Sold! Connectivity is such a huge issue in today’s world. Yes, please! A topiary labyrinth that acts as a hideout? So cool! Africanfuturism/biopunk/romance based in Yoruba culture? I am here for it! The prose, too, delivers on the promise of the premise. When I finished Rosewater by Tade Thompson, I immediately wanted more. The British-born Nigerian psychiatrist was already on it: there are two more books in the Wormwood trilogy (and a ton more texts in his bibliography). Score! 

Rosewater

By Tade Thompson,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Rosewater as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Semiosis

By Sue Burke,

Book cover of Semiosis

Why this book?

If you like Ursula K. Le Guin’s short story about a forest planet, “Vaster Than Empires and More Slow,” you might love my fellow Wisconsin-native Sue Burke’s novel Semiosis. (Haven’t read Le Guin’s story? Add it to your list! It’s a gem.) At the heart of Semiosis is the question: ‘what if humans colonized a world that was already inhabited by intelligent life – and that lifeform was vegetal?’ The word “semiosis” refers to the production of meaning, so it’s fitting that in this generational starship novel, Burke digs into biology and chemistry to speculate on how humans might learn to adapt and communicate with sentient vegetation. She even includes a chapter from a plant’s point of view! Come for the plants, stay for the first-class world building.  

Semiosis

By Sue Burke,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Semiosis as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Colonists from Earth wanted the perfect home, but they'll have to survive on the one they found. They don't realize another life form watches...and waits.

Flora Curiosa: Cryptobotany, Mysterious Fungi, Sentient Trees, and Deadly Plants in Classic Science Fiction and Fantasy

By Phil Robinson, H.G. Wells,

Book cover of Flora Curiosa: Cryptobotany, Mysterious Fungi, Sentient Trees, and Deadly Plants in Classic Science Fiction and Fantasy

Why this book?

This is a great gateway collection. In fact, this was one of the first anthologies of plant-related speculative stories that I read after falling in love with science-fictional plants. I jumped at it when I saw that it includes authors such as H. G. Wells and Algernon Blackwood and am glad I did. I have written about a number of the stories I met in this collection. Awesome extra: there are two other volumes in this series. 

Flora Curiosa: Cryptobotany, Mysterious Fungi, Sentient Trees, and Deadly Plants in Classic Science Fiction and Fantasy

By Phil Robinson, H.G. Wells,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Flora Curiosa as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in extraterrestrial intelligence, extraterrestrial life, and HG Wells?

6,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about extraterrestrial intelligence, extraterrestrial life, and HG Wells.

Extraterrestrial Intelligence Explore 32 books about extraterrestrial intelligence
Extraterrestrial Life Explore 120 books about extraterrestrial life
HG Wells Explore 27 books about HG Wells

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Alchemist, Invisible Cities, and Sing, Unburied, Sing if you like this list.