I love when I encounter atypical flora and fauna in fiction. Any details, large or small, to take me out of generic pine or deciduous forest and immerse me within in your world are welcome. And I love when the, shall we say, less noble creatures appear. Cats and deer are all well and good, and I intend to cover unique species of these subtypes. But there are just soooo many other things your characters could encounter.
I remember in high school chemistry class one of the experiments was moving around the room, burning different minerals in Bunsen burners and guessing what the mineral’s composition was based upon the colors of the flames. The colors were surprisingly vivid and I was enchanted. Strontium containing compounds burned bold red, Calcium a jack-o-lantern orange, Potassium a pleasant violet of nearly magenta, Green from a number of chemicals (though if I recall properly we used copper sulfate. No promises, though, that was a while ago). Blue is easy to see from a simple alcohol flame. It’s like fireworks, but though explosions in the sky are fun for me it’s the fire on the ground, close enough to touch but for the fact it would hurt you that is more enticing. Most of these colors you have to deliberately create – we don’t often see them occurring in the natural world, at least where visible to many of us.
Which is what makes the Ijen volcano in Indonesia so entrancing. The flames from the lava are a brilliant, pure blue. Though it’s not the lava itself that causes this – it’s the concentration of sulfur gases also flowing forth from the volcano.
Exposed to the oxygen present in air and sparked by lava, the sulfur burns readily, and its flames are bright blue. There’s so much sulfur, Grunewald says, that at times it flows down the rock face as it burns, making it seem as though blue lava is spilling down the mountainside.
Imagine though, if you walked through a world where extreme concentrations of various minerals caused explosions of colorful flames. Or perhaps a group has to find their way through a desolate landscape, and have to follow the path of a specific kind of mineral that burns a specific otherworldly color. It’s a fantasy after all, so you can kind of do what you want. My favorite fantasy worlds though, are those that take the incredible from what we know occurs and expands upon it.
An appropriate entry for the first of October! I love when I encounter a plant that has a simple name, one that uses another object to describe itself. It usually means this plant has a very unique feature that sets it apart from the rest. So when I ran across a reference to the Skeleton Flower (Diphylleia grayi), I became excited before I saw any pictures.
As such, I was at first disappointed. It’s an innocuous appearing little plant, native to parts of China and Japan. The leaves are palmate, with deep veins visible and an uneven coloring of darker and lighter green The edges are spiked and turned down, often being described as umbrella shaped. But it’s called Skeleton FLOWER, right? Not entirely surprising that the rest of the plant would appear not terribly exciting.
But initially again I was disappointed. Bringing to mind the appearance strawberry blossoms to myself, they are small and white. Unlike strawberry blossoms, they rise a bit above the foliage on stalks that then branch out into clusters. Thin white petals and yellowy centers of stamens and pistils of a sort that are seen commonly in plantdom.
But then! Then I found their secret, the reason for their evocative name. When moisture touches the white petals, the color bleeds away and they turn transparent. The vein structure is still visible, white like the petals had been, but the majority is now delightfully see-through. You can see the skeleton of the petals, like taking an x-ray. Many of the images I found are of the flowers looking like delicate glass sculptures. They look as though they’d break with the slightest touch, or tear when a strong breeze hits their damp tissues.
Eventually, they produce edible berries that look much like blueberries to myself, but that’s besides the point! The point is a fascinating trait that could be utilized and adapted in a fantasy or sci fi story. I have a vision inside my head now, of a forest of plants that all turn utterly transparent except for their skeletons when it’s raining. Imagine your characters navigating through the both potentially beautiful and potentially disturbing maze of now transparent foliage. Stealthy creatures lurking behind layers, the faint suggestions of movement hinted at beneath the translucent layers of plant matter. It’s like an ice cave without the need for freezing temperatures. Hinting, teasing at what treasures or horrors may be just beyond the veil.