Plant life on Pandora is strange and even fantastic. Yet some plants on Pandora bear a striking resemblance to plants on Earth. The diversity of plant life and its range and its size and complexity suggest that, as on Earth, the environment on Pandora acts as a strong force for natural selection. The environmental factors that plants experience on Earth - radiation, water, atmospheric gases, and gravity - are present on Pandora, as well, although their characteristics differ profoundly, as the resulting plant life shows. The atmosphere on Pandora is thicker than on Earth, with higher concentration of carbon dioxide as well as elevated levels of hydrogen sulfide and xenon. Gravity is weaker, while the satellite's magnetic field is incredibly strong. All of these factors have determined the evolution of plant life on Pandora.
As on Earth, plants on Pandora have evolved the ability to respond to gravity, though its force is weaker on Pandora. As a result, gigantism is found in plants, and the typical orientation - stems growing up and roots growing down - does not necessarily hold true. The tallest trees, which are limited on Earth by the physical height to which their transport tissue can move water, reach much greater heights on Pandora in its lower gravity. The presence of a magnetic field and ionizing radiation have selected for growth responses toward these stimuli, named magnetotropism, which is found on both Earth and Pandora, seem quite tame by comparison.
Although, plants on Pandora have been given various common and Latin names, using the standard nomenclature accepted on Earth for biological organisms, their systematic classification remains a mystery. Some appear quite simple and perhaps primitive, while others have fantastic, seemingly highly evolved adaptations to the particular conditions on Pandora.
Most intriguing is the presence of life-forms that have characteristics of both plants and animals. These zooplantae (or colloquially "planimals") have incipient nervous systems that give them the kind of organic intelligence found in primitive animals. This discovery continues to baffle and delight biologists and botanists who mus reassess their preconceptions about the mechanics of life. As most everything here, this mystery awaits furth study by scientists lucky enough to make it to Pandora.
More after the Jump...
The helicoradian is a type of "sensitive zooplantae" that responds to touch by coiling up so that the single large leaf is no longer exposed to any herbivores that would eat it. Because it grows in clusters, the touch response, or thigmonasty, by one helicoradian often triggers the same response in others growing nearby so that the entire population recoils, one plant after another. This retraction is both defensive and an effective feeding mechanism to trap insects and small animals. Unseen contractile roots belowground aid in the retraction of each folded plant quickly into the ground. The reaction is so swift that it appears that the helicordians are being sucked into the ground. The Na'vi use leaves of the Helicoradian to make ornate ceremonial robes and other garments, tents and sacks. Orange pigments in leaves can be extracted and used for paint. The Na'vi are able to wander among the helicoradian without triggering this defense response, but are warned of the presence of danger when the helicoradian start to retract.
Taxonomy: Fungimonium giganteum
Na'vi name: Torukspxam, meaning "great leonopteryx fungus"
Height: up to 3 meters
Spread: bell can be 3 meters
Some mycelia penetrate plant roots to absorb carbohydrates while providing the body with a greater supply of mineral nutrients. Octoshrooms are able to absorb and break down nearly everything in the soil such as chlorine, ammonia, and methane.
Following the 1986 Chernobyl incident on Earth, a similar fungus was discovered, but not fully understood. When scientists realized that the octoshroom used ionizing radiation as energy for growth, scientists were able to further understand the metabolism of the Chernobyl fungus. Because it is an effective antivenom, there are currently studies underway regarding the octoshroom in the pharmaceutical and bioremediation industries.
The Na'vi use the octoshroom's roots to make tea. It is a powerful antivenom effective against the sting of many venomous animals. Too much tea, however, has been proven toxic and sometimes lethal.
It is possible that octoshroom spores have stowed away on an interstellar vehicle and germinated on Earth. However, no specimens have been found and data regarding its survival in the terran atmosphere is incomplete. Some believe that an octoshroom "forest" in Nevada could help restore the entire region.
The warbonnet fern was aptly named for the primary use of this plant - as head wear during times of both war and peace. The similarity to Native American head wear made from feathers is obvious, as Pandoran colonists have noted.The most striking feature of the warbonnet fern is the iridescent blue of the leaves, which contain abundant anthocyanin pigments. These pigments are light-reactive chemicals that reflect blue light and that give color to blue and purple flowers and fruit. The warbonnet fern has evolved a close relationship with a particular species of forest bird, which is also a pale iridescent blue color and well camouflaged against the leaves of the plant. These birds feed on insects that are attracted to the blue leaves, which have red lines radiating out from the center of the plant. Insects accumulate on the enlarged central apex or meristem, from which the leaves grow, and the small birds swoop in to feed.
It is fortunate that warbonnet ferns sprout readily from below-ground buds because they are gathered and used regularly by the Na'vi. The dark nights are often illuminated by single leaves that have been mounted on trees with their glowing arrow-like pattern pointing to a special destination, reminiscent of Terran signs.
Common Name: Baja tickler
Na'vi Name: Txumtsa wll, or "poison-squirting plant"
Taxonomy: Flaska reclinata, or "reclining flask"
Botanical Description: Large plant with inclined, flask-shaped body held up by above-ground prop roots. Cluster of stiff spiny leaves protect a small opening at the top. Atmospheric toxins are absorbed by the plant and dissolve into liquid that accumulates inside.
The Baja Tickler resembles no plant growth form on Earth and is unique on Pandora. It has been described as something like a large hollow tree that grows at an incline. A cluster of large spiny leaves adorn the top, and large roots extend out from the underside of the stem, growing into the soil and helping to anchor and prop up the plant. The surface is rough and green due to to a dense covering of small moss-like plants that can withstand high temperatures and harsh conditions.
The Baja Tickler is one of the most important plants on Pandora. It is also one of the most dangerous. It plays an important role on the moon by helping to detoxify the atmosphere. Toxic gases (mostly volcanic in origin) are absorbed into the plant body, where they dissolve into a pool of watery liquid that accumulates inside. This primeval 'soup' periodically builds up pressure and temperature and is squirted explosively in a toxic plume from the top of the plant. The Na'vi recognize both the value and potential danger of the plant and mainly avoid it. The Na'vi name for it is Txumtsa'wll, or "poison-squirting plant".
This species grows high in the canopy and, by virtue of its inaccessibility, is considered to be a more special treat. It is considered very lucky to find this species uneaten on the ground, and many Na'vi will wait until they are back at Hometree to show it to others before eating. It is considered good manners to offer the find to a friend or loved one. It is also customary to refuse such an offer while insisting that Eywa meant for the fruit to be enjoyed by the finder. A common joke is to pretend to accept the offered utu mauti, and begin to take a bite before then declining and giving it back to the lucky "finder." Everyone laughs at this pretend social transgression, because to accept the gift would be extremely rude. IN some young male circles, a would-be recipient pretends to start to eat the fruit, and the finder must wrestle it back in a good natured "fight." On occasion, the fruit is squashed in the process and no one gets it, negating any purported "luck." This is uproarious to Na'vi adolescents.
The banshee of paradise is one of the most dangerous plants on Pandora because it can eject poison-tipped spines in a targeted direction. It has the ability to sense infrared radiation, which is emitted from warm objects such as animal and people, and to rotate its tubular body to point toward the source of the IR. Large spines contain toxins in glands on the tips, which can be deadly in large concentrations. When the source of IR comes close to the plant, the spines eject their poisonous tips in the direction of the threat.
The Na'vi sometimes blow through the tubular plant body to make its signature wailing sound as a warning to intruders to stay away. Although deadly and toxic, the plant is also a food source for the Na'vi. The large seeds of the banshee are attached on the stem opposite the direction the plant is pointing, making it easy for the Na'vi to harvest them.
The binary sunshine is one of many life-forms on Pandora found to have a simple nervous system. These baffling zooplantae continue to be a source of wonder (and some confusion) to scientists. This herbaceous plant is unusual due to its advanced mechanism of Bioluminescence. The leaves of the plant are modified into enclosed bulbous structures that resemble Earth-made lamps when they glow. These are able to detect the presence of danger by sensing the emission of volatile stress hormones from living organisms. For the Na’vi, the colors emitted by the glowing leaves signal whether the landscape is calm or danger is near. The Na’vi collect these leaves and plant them at strategic points to be used as sentinels to signal approaching threats.
The binary sunshine is adapted for vegetative reproduction in which parts of the organism can repreoduce new clonal "planimals" without the need for flowers. When a leaf is removed or falls off a stem it will produce adventitious roots from its base and start growing as an independent planimal.
There is a potentially huge market on Earth for these plants which can be used for lighting which that does not contribute to global warming or pollution. Furthermore, this plant has the potential to become a ‘bio-lie detector’ by measuring the emission of stress hormones of any test subject. The potential effects of the plant being introduced into Earth’s ecosystem, either to an advantage or disadvantage is not yet known.
These two Magellum species have coevolved a mutualistic relationship that benefits them both. The unidelta tree shares its root toxin with the delta tree, which does not need to expend energy making its own, and the delta tree shares nutrients with the unidelta tree. The only sign that toxin has been transfered is a subtle change in the bioluminescence of the tree leaves at night, which the Na'vi have learned to identify. Animals have also learned to avoid feeding on the roots of both trees, making it an excellent defense mechanism for both plants.
The unidelta tree wood is harvested to make canoes, and the thick waxy leaf cuticle is melted down and used for waterproofing. The leaves themselves, which are non-toxic are then used to make bowls, since they are naturally waterproofed. The spines are then used by the Na'vi to make tools, as well as weapons for hunting and fishing. Because of their close array, the unidelta tree is the tree of choice for a performance of the pendulum drums.
Common Name: Anemonid
Na'vi Name: Fngapsutxwll or "metal following plant"
Taxonomy: Pennanemone ciliare, or "leafy anemonoid" and "hairy"
The anemonid is one of several carnivorous plants on Pandora that obtains most of its nutrition from other organisms rather than making its own through photosynthesis. The large, flattened meristem at the top of the plant is covered with a sticky aromatic substance that attracts insects, which are quickly trapped once they land. Digestive enzymes on the plant's surface then break down the insect bodies to obtain nitrogen and other essential elements.
The anemonid is rather unique in another feature - it's roots absorb metals from the soil rather than typical mineral elements needed for plant growth. This gives the plant the ability to move in response to a magnetic field, which was named magnetonasty by the first scientists who studied this behavior. The anemonids will turn and lean toward anyone walking by carrying a metal object.
Research is under way on Earth to determine whether anemonids could be used in bioremediation to detoxify soil contaminated with heavy metals, or possibly as a tool for mining. Results so far have been inconclusive.
Common Name: Cat Ear
Na'vi Name: Pamtseowll, or "music plant"
Ethnobotany: The leaves are collected by the Na'vi for use as musical instruments (for hufwe, or wind, instruments) and children's toys.
The cat ear plant is an unusual species that is both beautiful and musical, and has the characteristics of both plant and animal. It has cup-shaped leaves, which resemble cat's ears and grow all over the stems. Inside the base of each leaf a small flower forms, giving the appearance of whiskers emerging from the leaf. When wind blows across a stem covered in these specialized leaves, the reflect the waves of sound and form a musical note. Since the leaves vary in size, each tree sounds like a small symphony in the wind.
Besides its musical abilities, this planimal has the uncanny ability to turn in the direction of an animal, and track it as it moves through the rainforest. This can be disconcerting to humans on Pandora, who feel like they are being "watched" as the planimal turns in response to their presence. It was the behavior of the cat ear that led xenobiologists to discover these odd creatures who straddle the evolutionary fence between plant and animal.
Common Name: Chalice Plant
Na'vi Name: Yomioang, or "animal eater"
Taxonomy: Pseudocenia rosea. Named for resemblence to Earth's pitcher plant Sarracenia and its rosey color. Same genus as direhorse pitcher plant and leaf pitcher.
Height: grows 5 to 6 meters above ground.
The chalice plant is on eo fhtree large pitcher shaped plants known to exist on Pandora and is the largest carnivorous plant known to man. It single large leaf is modified into a giant pitcher-shaped tube that is supported by small prop roots at the base. The plant has only a small root system and obtains most of its nutrition from digesting small animals rather than from absorption from the soil. Animals are attracted to nectar and crawl into the tubular plant, where they are unable to exit due to stiff, downward-pointing hairs inside. There they drown in water that collects in the pitcher, and digestive enzymes break down the animal's tissues for absorption by the plant.
*The giant pitchers are large enough to trap a man. Na'vi children learn very early of the danger of chalice plants through songs that are accompanied by a humorous, almost slapstick-like dance.
Common Name: Cycad
Na'vi Name: Tsyorina'wll, or "flour seed plant"
Taxonomy: Pseudocycas altissima. Named for strong resemblance to cycads on Earth, and root name meaning "tall.
Botanical Description: Virtually identical to cycads on Earth. Tall, woody seed plant with ring of large leaves at top. Bears large open cone-like structures containing round green seeds.
The Pandoran cycad bears an uncanny resemblance to cycads that occur throughout the Earth's tropics. Cycads are ancient seed plants that are found in Earth's fossil record as far back as 208 and possibly even 325 million years ago. They were common during the age of the dinosaurs.
Cycads on Pandora live in close relation with nitrogen-fixing organisms resembling anemonoid that grow on their trunks. They do not accumulate toxins in their tissues the way Earth cycads do, and their seeds can be used as food by the Na'vi and ground up to make flour.
Since cycads have become rare on Earth, botanists are studying the possibility of exporting specimens from Pandora. Though the nitrogen-fixing role would be accomplished by a blue-green algae in the roots, similar to Earth cycads, it is believed that the symbiotic anemonoid would not grow in Earth's atmosphere. These algae produce a neurotoxin that can creat symptoms similar to Lou Gehrig's disease. Yet the beauty and rarity of the plant may still make it an attractive item in the horticulture trade.
Common Name: Dakteron
Na'vi Name: Yomhi'ang, or "small animal (insect) eater"
Taxonomy: Pseudopenthes coralis. Named for resemblance to nepenthes, a carnivorous plant on Earth, and to sea coral.
Botanical Desciption: Herbaceous vine with elaborate modified leaf for trapping insects. Showy flower has bulbous coral-like structure that emits fragrance to lure insects.
The Dakteron bears some resemblance to well-known insectivorous plant on Earth, nepenthes, one of the pitcher plants. Similar to its namesake, the dakteron has a large leaf modified into a hanging pitcher, with stiff, downward-pointing hairs inside that prevent any captured insects from exiting out the top. Other leaves on the plant are more typical and have an expanded blade, although they are largely blue in color.
The flower of the dakteron is an elaborate structure with two large bulbous appendages arising from the base. The many pores on these appendages give them the appearance of sea coral. These bright blue structures emit a lovely fragrance that is attractive to insects. Lured by the scent, insects land on the leaf pitcher and crawl inside searching for food, only to be trapped and ultimately digested by the plant. The remarkable effectiveness of the dakteron in trapping insects is put to good use on Pandora. Pieces of the stem are planted near dwellings, where the will take root and grow leaf pitchers that keep the area free of biting insects.
Taxonomy: Candea inflata
Height: 12 to 15 meters
The dandetiger is a large stately tree that resembles a sparkler. It produces no branches, and all leaves are clustered at the crown of the tree. The leaves are long, slender, tubular, and their flexible structure allows them to sway in even a light breeze. The bark of the dandetiger is elaborate and armored to prevent insects and animals from penetrating it.
The dandetiger accumulates atmospheric gases and combines them with essential oils to produce resin, a complex plant liquid with many uses. In the plant it serves as a defense against damage by insects and disease-causing organisms. The dandetiger transports resin to the leaves, where it accumulates in glandular hairs, or trichromes, at leaf tips. At night the leaf tips glow brightly indicating the presence of the resin.
As resin accumulates it is exuded from the leaf tips form which it rains down on anything below. Solidified resin balls are collected and used by the Na'vi as a natural adhesive due to their mucilaginous texture. Samples of dandetiger resin have been taken to Earth for further study to evaluate its potential as a new plastic and/or a sustainable biofuel.
Common Name: Dapophet
Na'vi Name: Paywll, or "water plant"
Taxonomy: Aleparilus succulentus name means "aloe-like" and "fleshy"
The dapophet is an unusual plant that stores water in its tissues. The leaves to the top of the plant have a gelatinous substance inside that has healing properties when applied to skin. The Na'vi use it to soothe skin that has been burned as well as to speed healing of cuts and other injuries. The leaves can be ground up and ingested to sooth upset stomachs and cure other intestinal ailments.
The fleshy, succulent leaves that grow along the stem are water-filled and very popular with the Na'vi as a portable hydration system. They will pull off the leaves and carry them along to suck on for water. When a leaf is pulled off, a new one grows in its place. The leaves must be harvest carefully, however, because the top leaves occasionally eject spines in the direction of the stem when too many water-filled leaves are removed.
Common Name: Episoth
Na'vi Name: Pxoma, or "exploding seed"
Height: 7.5 to 9 meters
The episoth is a tree with a highly evolved dispersal mechanism to spread its seeds near and far. The large spiny fruits grow from flowers all along the branches. When they are ripe they open explosively, flinging seeds in all directions. The seeds are covered in a mucilaginous substance, much like chia on Earth (once used to make "Chia pets") although the episoth mucilage is much more acidic. After the sticky seeds adhere to whatever they contact, such as other trees, animals, or Na'vi, the acidic mucilage begins to dissolve the surface layer. This creates a more suitable surface for the seeds to stick and begin germination.
The Na'vi gather the seeds and collect the mucilage to use as a skin rejuvination treatment. The seeds are also delicious and used as a high-protein food source.
Na'vi name: Txll'u
Taxonomy: Flaska ascendens, root meaning "flask" and "going up"
Botanical Description: Tall, hollow, urn-shaped carnivorous plant. Branches on plant body enlarge at the base and eventually break off. Branches form new plants when they root on the ground.
Ecology: Flowers on ends of branches attract birds and small animals. Animals are trapped in the one-way tubular branches and can only move down. Enzymes inside the enlarged plant body digest animals for nutrition.
The hookagourd is a carnivorous plant that traps and digests birds and small animals to obtain nutrients, which are needed since it has only a small root system. Each branch has a flower at the end with a strong fragrance and abundant nectar that attracts the unsuspecting prey. Once an animal lands on the flower, it crawls deeper into the tubular stem to obtain nectar and is unable to exit due to stiff, downward-pointing hairs. A distinctive feature of the hookagourd is the enlarged base of each branch, which indicates that it is filling up with organic matter from digested animals.
The Na'vi harvest the branches of the hookgourd to carve out bowls and jars for their use. The large basal "gourd" is left intact to grow new branches, thus making the plant a natural factory for production of usuable products. Earth botanists on Pandora have discovered that the plants can be manipulated to produce matching sets of bowls if all branches are fed animals simultaneously. These Pandoran rarites are extremely valuable on Earth.
Na'vi Name: Tautral, or "sky tree"
Taxonomy: Saltarus pendulus
Height: mature trees can reach more than 150 meters
Spread: up to 15 meters
The beanstalk palm is named for its ability to grow to exceptional heights in the dense atmosphere and low gravity of Pandora. When it is young, a tree provides shade, and its leaves can be harvested for their fibrous tissue. They are used to weave mats, baskets, banners, and bridles and saddles for direhorses. Unlike its relative the razor palm, the beanstalk palm has rough but not sharp bark and is easy to climb. Birds and small climbing animals are often found nesting in its canopy.
Once a tree matures, it continues to grow to heights not seen on Earth, wich places the canopy above most other trees on Pandora. Thos not afraid of heights can climb to the top, although on windy days the trunks flex and sway and climbing can be dangerous. The leaves can be used to make a harness to hold the climber onto the tree during the ascent. The Na'vi used the taller trees as lookout posts and launching sites for banshees.
Common Name: Panopyra
Na'vi Name: Tawtsngal, or "sky cap"
Taxonomy: Panopyra aerii, named for resemblance to musical instrument and for growth habit "in the air"
Height: 15 centimeters at cup
Spread: Up to 46 centimeters at cup
Note: nicknamed "love flower" by Terran scientists
Normal plant gravitropic responces are missing in the panopyra. Instead of growing toward or against gravity, the vinelike stems sense and grow toward prey, which in turn are attracted by slight electric signals emanating from the plant stems. Once an animal approaches the panopyra it is further lured by the nutrient-rich water trapped in the cuplike plant body. This double attractant system results in abundant food for the panopyra, which has no need to make its own by photosynthesis.
The Na'vi collect the liquid that catches in the body and use it for a nutritious and healing drink. The flexible stems are used for making nets, traps, and other woven items. The growing tips of the stems with their sensory cells are said to be an attractant and aphrodisiac and are often worn by young Na'vi who are looking for a mate.
*Note: perhaps this is what comprised the necklace which Neytiri was wearing that night when she brought Jake to the Tree of Voices....
Taxonomy: Capsulatum virgatum
Botanical Description: herbaceous plant with colorful capsule-shaped stem with alternating horizontal stripes of green and pink. Thin, straplike orange leaves protrude in whorls from the stem.
The popsicle's chubby shape and bright, colorful surface might lead one to think it belongs on a playground. However, it is neither inert nor harmless. Its bright colors are produced by electrical dishcarge from the chemical gas xenon, which is found in high concentrations on Pandora. The popsicle plant takes up xenon from the soil and absorbs it from the air and transports it into specialized cells in the stem, where it is stored. These cells possess giant organelles called vacuoles that can sequester high concentrations of xenon, including unstable isotopes that undergo radioactive decay. Popsicle plants are usually several degrees warmer than the surrounding environment due to the reactions occuring in the vacuoles. Storage products remain in vacuoles for the life of the plant and are not excreted.
Na'vi Name: Rumut, or "ball tree"
Taxonomy: Obesus rotundus
Height: larger trees grow well over 15 meters
Spread: widest branches extend 6 meters
The puffball tree is considered a keystone species on Pandora. It plays a critically important role in maintaining the stability of the environment. The globular balls produced at the tops of the trees and ends of the branches act as sponges, absorbing toxic chlorine gas from the atmosphere. This function is similar to that of the plant vacuole at the cellular level, which sequesters plant waste products and other molecules such as pigments and minerals
The puffball tree also takes up naturally occuring sodium from the soil, much of which is extruded onto the surface of the leaves. The Na'vi collect the leaves to use the salt in their diets. Humans on Pandora discovered this important function of the puffball tree and returned samples to Earth to study its potential use in areas where over farming and runoff have resulted in salty, unusable soil.
Na'vi Name: Txumpaywll, or "poison-water plant"
Taxonomy: Scorpioflora maxima, means "large scorpion-like plant"
The scorpion thistle is a rare plant on Pandora that produces a single gigantic flower at the tip of an enlarged stem. This plant has coevolved with a particular bird species that is its sole pollinator. Similar to the highly coevolved plant-insect pollinator relationships on Earth, this plant-bird pollinator coevolution has resulted in both species resembling each other. The beak of the bird fits perfectly into the small opening of the flower, where it locates nectar and in doing so transfers pollen.
This plant has a specialized mechanism to prepare the soil for its own seeds to grow. A highly acidic liquid is excreted from the flower anddrops onto the ground below the plant. This liquid dissolves any other living organisms in the spot where it lands and also breaks down rocks and other large particles into a nutrient-rich seed bed. When seeds are mature and drop, they land in this "safe site" and germinate readily under the protection of the parent plant. This highly evolved form of "parenting" has rarely been observed in plants.
Na'vi Name: Pxlut, or "sharp tree"
Taxonomy: Saltcellar gracilis
Height: largest trees can grow taller than 12 meters
Ethnobiology: The pliable, sticky, hairlike undersides make them the best choice for banshee catchers
The razor palm is one fo the most useful plants on Pandora. Its fibrous leaves are woven into mats, baskets, and banners, as well as bridles and saddles for direhorses. However, the tough leaves are extremely sharp along their long edges and can cut skin easily. Because the branches are long the leaves are narrow, razor palm trees have a very open canopy that blows around easily in the wind, making it dangerous to walk near the trees or harvest their leaves unless the air is very still. Even in still air, sharp spines on the bark must be avoided when collecting leaves.
The open canopy and narrow leaves of the razor palm allow wind to pass through easily, which results in loud whistling sounds as leaves whip around in the wind. The leaves of the razor palm are used by the Na'vi to make a special "singing cloth," which is woven with this spaces at certain intervals to create specific musical sounds. The cloth is used to make banners for ceremonial purposes as well as to quiet fussy Na'vi children.
And here are some other unknown, yet extremely fascinating plants from the forests of Pandora...