Trees and plants in storytelling

Hawthorn Tree by Arthur Rackham

I’ve written on this website about trees before, they permeate the arts throughout history. There were trees in early cave paintings, and they appear in art traditions around the world. And they aren’t just background images, trees and plant are often characters in themselves. Trees have taken leading roles in myth and folklore. They inspire strength, resilience, wonder, and can even teach us about human relationships. (Above, illustration by Arthur Rackham who specialized in trees.) 

Author Richard Powers has expanded the mythology of trees by incorporating them into his novel The Overstory, which has won praise from both readers and scientists. In the following interview, appropriately conducted beneath a towering oak, he explains how his book was inspired by nature.

In one particular quote, Powers says, “This book is about taking the non-human seriously. It’s about realizing that we are not alone on this earth, and the rest of creation is not there simply to be a resource to us.”

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The Kingdom of Plants by Julie-Anne FountainFor the younger crowd, Julie-Anne Fountain’s middle grade novel The Curse Of The Nightshade: The Kingdom Of Plants Book One, is a fantasy where plants take center stage. In a hidden world known as The Kingdom of Plants, young Laurel discovers she comes from a long line of seedmages, who can control plants using magic. As she searches for her kidnapped mother and battles deadly Nightshades (half-human half-plant), she learns to harness her powers and gain confidence.

The book is full of botanical references, and the Latin names of plants are used to cast spells. Seeds are a powerful source of magic, and can be made to grow into nearly any shape while keeping the properties of the original plant. The city in this fantasy world is also built from plants, with towering trees that form ascending layers that hold streets and buildings. It’s a world that any plant-lover would want to step into.

Facts about trees and seeds are scattered throughout the book, without slowing down the story. This volume will inspire many a young reader to learn more about the natural world of plants around us.

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I’ve neglected this blog a bit lately, to work on other projects, but I hope to still update it once in a while with interesting examples of nature in art. You can also check out my personal website to learn more about my own stories and art.