Featured Images - Flowers. Image from Pixabay

How to build your world: Flora

So, I’m back with my World Building series.   So far, I’ve discussed topics such as water, atmosphere, sun, seasons and land so now let’s get to some of those living organisms.

There’s a special bonus for you at the end of the article 🙂

Today’s topic is Flora.  (That would be plants).

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Flora in your World

Now as writers we need to set the scene.  Fantasy and sci-fi writers especially need to create their worlds with depth and texture that pulls the reader in.

If we are setting the stage in a whole new world, then we cannot expect the reader to automatically know how it will look, feel, smell…

However let’s remember that while we will be building up a (hopefully not too mammoth) Encyclopedia, that does not mean we need a full book on each topic. When you think of your world’s flora, don’t create and describe thousands of plants.

Earth is bristling with plant life – from tiny flowers to towering trees. According to the Botanical Gardens Conservation International website:

“Even today the number of plant species currently in existence is not clear. New species are still being identified and calculating anything like an accurate number is further complicated by the many examples of the same species in different areas being known by different names. However it is estimated that the total number of plants is of the order of 400,000 species.”

So, unless your world is a barren desert or an arctic tundra world, let’s just take it as red that you’ve got a lot of plants.

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Types of Plants

We currently categorise flora in three ways:

Native

These are the plants that are native to the area. For example, the English Oak is native to Britain (and indeed is our most common tree species).

Agricultural and Horticultural

These are the plants that humans have purposefully planted for food (agriculture) and for our gardens (horticulture).

Wheat corn maize

Weeds

These are the plants considered to be pests such as invasive species. They are undesired and can often be non-native species that cause issues for native species.

So when thinking of your plant life, maybe use this as a way of categorising your species.

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What to Catalogue

Since we are not creating every plant species in this new world we have built, how do we decide what to create?

Simple – the plants must be used in your novel.

As part of the description – for example: when your characters walk through a dense forest.

As food and drink – for example: showing a village turning their grapes into wine that is to be sent to the palace

As medicine – for example: a wise woman in your town who ventures up the mountain path to retrieve a rare herb used to draw out the infection from a wound.

These are just a few examples and can help to develop texture in your world. The rule of thumb is don’t create any plants you won’t mention somewhere in your novel.

There is no point having pages of Flora Documentation if none of it is even briefly touched upon.

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Things To Think About When Creating Flora

When you start thinking about your flora, do so individually with each one. Decide on its category (Native, Argi/Horti or weed) and its type (tree, bush, flower etc.) then consider these:

Name

Give your plant a name.  Remember, most plants have an official name, a “common” name and also can sometimes have other names. Local townspeople might call the red poppies growing in the field of old battles, the “widow’s weeper.”

Description

You need to have an idea of how this plant looks.

  • Long stem?
  • Wide leaves?
  • Does it flower?
  • Does it climb walls or send out creepers?
  • Is it a dense bush or a single flower?

Growing method

Is it perennial or annual? Annuals are plants with a short life cycle, last only one year. They grow, bloom, usually with beautiful colourful flowers, they produce seeds and die.

They then need to be replanted. Perennials they live longer than 2 years, continue each year until they reach maturity.

Region/Climate

Does your plant only grow in a certain regions? What type of climate does this plant grow in?  Does it thrive in hot dry climates or maybe prefers wet boggy climates.

Plants are developed to survive in their native land – take for example predatory plants like the Venus fly trap – they live in places with low nutrients in the soil so instead gain their nutrients from catching and devouring insects.

Venus fly trap. Carnivorous plant. Image from Pixabay

Uses

Plants have many uses

  • Is it for eating like fruit or vegetables?
  • Maybe for cooking, like spices and herbs.
  • What does it taste like?
  • Is it bitter, sweet, bland?
  • Is it medicinal, can it be chewed for relieving headaches like willow bark or just rubbed on skin abrasions like aloe vera?
  • Maybe it’s poisonous (though most poisonous plants can kill or sicken some species but not others).
  • Can it be used for making rope or clothes for example hemp can be used for this?
  • Is it grown for animal feed?
  • Maybe it’s used to make canoes like some trees. Are they used for decoration? Think mistletoe at Christmas.
  • Is it grown for fire wood, like a coppice?

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  • How about a narcotic?
    • Is it used to reach a spiritual plane?
    • Taken as a recreational pleasure?
    • An addiction?

Once you know where in your world these plants grow, why they grow there, what they are used for… then you can get them working for you in your story.

I have FINALLY managed to create some printable templates! So here’s the first, a free editable template for your World Building folder.

Free Editable Template: Flora Template

More articles on my World Builder Series.

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Happy writing

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5 comments

  1. Interesting article, flora is something that’s often overlooked in world building. I would add that there are overlaps in your classification though: for example, the Japanese plum is both native and agricultural in China.

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