Monday, June 6, 2011

The Power Of The Botanical World

A few years ago (when we were still living in Montreal in an apartment), my husband and I went to see 'The Happening', a movie about a toxic airborne agent that makes the people in Northeastern United States commit suicide en masse. First the victims become disoriented, then they stop talking and moving, and finally they kill themselves by the quickest (and often most gruesome and painful) way.

(Warning: movie spoiler below. Stop here if you’re planning to watch this film.)

At the start of the movie, the belief is that it’s a bioterrorist attack because it’s hitting the areas with the largest populations. But that theory is ruled out as the incidences increase in frequency and the mysterious pandemic spreads out to towns with much smaller populations. The subsequent theory, which comes from a botanist and seems to be the one the movie is intent on sticking to from that point on, is that it’s the trees, and perhaps some bushes and grass as well, that are causing this apocalyptic event. How? By emitting an airborne neurotoxin that entices humans to kill themselves. Why? Because they’re tired of (and threatened by) humankind’s ecological destruction. And so, they create this toxic defense mechanism as a way of saving themselves, but instead of wiping out the entire human species, which they seem able to do easily, they send out a warning by killing a good chunk of people in a concentrated area.

This sample of what can happen if the plants gang up on us is supposed to accomplish two things:

1) Scare the crap out of everyone by demonstrating how powerful the botanical world is.

2) Scare the crap out of everyone by demonstrating how defenseless people are against the power of the botanical world.

Basically, the message is that should the plant world unite (the botanist believes that communication and comradeship between different species is possible) and decide that there isn’t enough room for both humans and plants in this world simultaneously, we’re screwed. Plants rule!

So, the concept is pretty cool, something environmental activists might use to promote their cause. But the acting is pretty lame, which you expect since the script is, too, and it killed whatever potential there was in making the whole thing work. This was undeniably a b-movie, but not one of the better ones, and maybe not even worthy of the big screen. I personally think it was better suited as a half hour episode on The Twilight Zone or on Night Gallery, both of which I watched as a kid.

In any case, even though the movie wasn’t an award-winning type, I did appreciate the idea of plants shelling out some revenge. And if the plant world wanted to reduce our numbers, what hope do we have? What the heck could we do about it? Reason with them? Destroy the plants, which would end up destroying us, anyway? We’re doomed no matter how I look at it. And so, on our way back home from the movie, I thought about the houseplants inside my house and imagined them – and there were many of them at the time – deciding at one point that they weren’t too happy with me. And they could easily – because there were certainly enough of them – form an airborne-neurotoxin-releasing army and do away with me. I figured the ring leader would have to be one of the Dieffenbachias, which are very toxic plants to begin with.

But the more I thought about it, the more I believed it could be any one of them, because there were a lot of poisonous houseplants growing around our home that could have evolved rapidly and increased their potency. And I couldn’t really tell which one would stab me in the back if it came to that. In addition, some of the really toxic ones were also the most attractive and harmless-looking plants that no one would ever suspect of any wrongdoing.

For example, who would expect that the nice-looking Spathiphyllum, with the common name peace lily, isn’t peaceful at all? Every part of this shifty plant is toxic, and if ingested, will burn your lips and mouth and possibly cause swelling and blistering. This not-so-peaceful rogue can easily wipe the floor with you by teaming up with some Sansevierias, Philodendrons, Dieffenbachias and even a couple of Pothos, all of which can cause the same symptoms, some of which will take it one step further and cause vomiting, diarrhea, throat swelling, stomach cramps, and breathing and swallowing difficulties. And once you’re down for the count with all the internal problems, why not add some external ones by throwing in the skin irritations and rashes caused by the Crassula ovata (Jade Plant) and the Ficus elastica?

I tell you, if plants decide to form a toxic coalition you can pretty much kiss this world good-bye. So, watch your back. And always sleep with one eye open. Not that it would help.

Trailer for the movie:


  1. I have seen this one myself. I kind of liked this movie... then again I like several cheesy movies. :P

    Does make you wonder though, mother nature seems to have a way of dealing with overpopulation of species. What is going to happen when she determines man has overpopulated... (insert sinister music here)

  2. Martha, that was hilarious!

  3. Too funny! I sure hope your houseplants don't form a coalition - they might if they knew you were describing them as rogues and shifty...!
    We watched this movie over the winter and I quite enjoyed it's creepy, suspenseful atmosphere. Great description of it btw.

  4. Shifty little plants! I saw the way the Dieffenbachia looked at you... :) I saw that movie too - nothing else was on that night, and it was a great premise. I too wonder exactly how we're going to deal when the mismanagement of the planet catches up with us.

  5. @WebDebris: I've seen my share of cheesy movies. Some are better than others. I did like the concept of this one. Reminds us how powerful Mother Nature is. And she always does deal with overpopulation. She'll get to us eventually.

    @Liza: I'm glad you enjoyed! I enjoy sharing my zany imagination :)

    @Jane: I not only have houseplants, but now I have an entire outdoor collection of plants. If they all unite, I'm a goner. I'll disappear into one of the flower beds :)

    @Tatiana: LOL...yup, they sure are shifty. And I think we're going to pay a hefty price when the mismanagement of the planet catches up with us.