2.07.2012

Tiny Aliens Could Take the Day: 3 Plants That Are Taking Over the World


By on 4:46 PM


When you imagine aliens invading the world, don’t you picture vaguely humanoid, intelligent extra-terrestrials with advanced technology – or at least something with an overwhelming technological advantage?

I used to, too. Then I heard about an aquarium in the Mediterranean and realized that, while alien invasions and the accompanying enslavement, war or mass extermination might suck – and it certainly would – aliens chopping off the bottom of the food chain might just be worse.

What if a meteorite crash-landed in the middle of Natural Resource, USA, carrying some sort of alien fungus that decided it liked corn just a little too much, or even just what corn fed on? Or trees? Forget plant-life – what if it started eating all of our oil?

What if it started eating us?

Well, we don’t need an actual meteorite to imagine what sorts of horrible devastation any one of those options could cause. We don’t even need the ‘extra’ part of ‘extra-terrestrial,’ because we’ve got plenty of terrestrial plants and fungi as food for thought just as they’re taking ecosystems for food.

3 Terrifying and Terrestrial Examples of Plant-Life That Are Taking Over the World

We all saw (or read) it happen in The War of the Worlds. The humans poked their heads out from their hiding spots after the dust settled, only to discover red weed growing on every available surface. Eventually the plant, and the invaders themselves, fell victim to Earthen bacteria, but we can’t rely on that sort of microbial dues ex machina to save us; we can’t even rely on the concept not turning around and killing us.

What we can rely on is, as the world gets more and more interconnected, there are an increasing number of cases of bugs, reptiles, plants, and even mammals (the primary offenders are deer and bunnies) ending up where they shouldn’t, and surviving to a ridiculous degree. However, it’s the plants that interest me the most, because I can see people in general freaking out less about extra-terrestrial plants than about scary alien spiders (I would, too – terrestrial spiders are bad enough), even if it should be the other way around.

Whether you’re looking for background fodder for an environmental alien invasion story or just want to learn about some earth-based invasions that we could have stopped but but stupidly didn’t, here are a few cases to keep in mind. If you can think of any others – plants, fungi, bacteria, even bugs or animals – be sure to let us know by leaving a comment; there’s always room for a good sci-fi sequel.

1. Japanese Knotweed
Photo by Dankogreen
What is it?  It’s a large, perennial plant that looks like 3 meter tall bamboo. This plant species, found in six Canadian provinces and almost 80% of the United States, is so invasive it’s classified as “controlled waste” in Britain and has been illegal to spread in that same country for the past thirty years. Japanese knotweed has also managed to find its way into the list of the top 100 invasive species.

Not only can it manage to survive pretty much anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere (and probably wouldn’t fare too badly in the South, either), it just doesn’t die. Like most weeds, you have to kill the roots to remove it completely; unlike most weeds, it grows in massive colonies and has rhizomes (gnarly masses of root) that can stretch out to 23 feet wide and nearly 10 feet deep.

How can it be used in an alien invasion novel? Any way you please. This stuff is so permanent in the contemporary Western world, complete with its herbicides and pretty terrifying agricultural corporate conglomerates, that if you take away large swaths of the human population or otherwise divert attention away from keeping it contained, there will be no stopping it and its devouring derivation of Manifest Destiny as it travels westward across North America.

So, two main situations come to mind.

One: you kill off or engage the majority of humans to the extent that nature runs wild and huge ecosystems get knocked out. Any remaining humans (after either winning a war against extraterrestrials or successfully hiding out against improbably short-term extra-terrestrial curiosity) have to deal with the environmental and agricultural fallout.

Of course, with this sort of serious root structure in mind, it’s not just the fields and flora that have to worry – unencumbered Japanese knotwood has been known to destroy foundations, roads, and even flood defenses. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you might write a secondary plot about the eventual, potential destruction of a dam or two. Or New Orleans again.

Two: you use this plant as a creative basis for your own, invasive-in-more-ways-than-one scourge upon humanity. Humans, curiously investigating a meteorite dusted with xenobiological spores, might accidentally let samples get too close to nutrients or might have left it landed in a field just a bit too long. Either way, Red Weed 2.0 could be coming for your characters, without any convenient bacterial weakness to stop it in its tracks.

2. Caulerpa Taxifolia

Photo by Vishal Bhave
Now this is a fun one. Originally a rather pretty algae that people used to decorate aquariums, it’s now taking over the Mediterranean Sea after a museum accidentally tossed it into an environment completely unprepared for it. The director says it happened naturally, and marine biologist Alexandre Meinesz says the museum was moronic. But it doesn’t really matter, because the moral of this story was that everyone spent so much time trying to figure out who or what to blame that it’s been spreading since 1984 and nothing has really been done to stop it.

This invasion actually has its good and bad points, both of which can be incorporated into an alien invasion novel. The good? It eats pollution. The bad? It’s far more durable than native species (hence the invasion part) and biodiversity is at risk – maybe.

All the sources are still bickering after all, so we don't know for sure.

Caulerpa introduces a few potential secondary plot points, but nothing revolutionary. It reinforces bureaucratic stupidity, red tape, and our penchant to create our own environmental disasters. You can also use it if you have peaceful alien interaction: humans and whatever extra-terrestrials you choose (carbon-based, probably) can trade species that we think will be beneficial to the other: they might give us things that eat pollution, and we might do the same – or give them food plants, cotton or fibrous plants, or pretty much anything. This can go well (positive alien interaction – yay!) or badly, sparking tension, ecological unhappiness, or just a single failure in a string of diplomatic happenings.

3. Diffuse Knapweed

Photo by nebarnix
Doesn’t it seem so innocent?

This plant causes some serious problems. Not only does it have no problem surviving in the western United States (despite originating in Asia Minor, the Balkans, and Russia), it’s actively growing and taking out serious chunks of ranch income. So, how did it get here, how is it continuing to spread, and why does this matter in terms of alien invasions?

It first arrived in the middle of a Washingtonian alfalfa field in 1907, presumably hitching a ride from its native Eurasia home to the US in an alfalfa shipment. After originally being dispersed through agricultural trade, it’s now taking over through similar agricultural alfalfa mishaps, being carried around by the local wildlife, and through wind and water. All fairly innocuous, and all causing problems. 

All of the above methods can also be used as vehicles for your extra-terrestrial Alienweed. It can be carted around in the fur and stomachs of animals, carried down river or down wind, and infect the world through globalization. The first two are probably secondary and nondescript methods of transportation, but that last one can be used for political commentary against globalization: if food were produced locally instead of country crops, it (whatever you choose for it to be) would spread less quickly.

If you want to take it to the next level, you could have this wipe out a post Space Revolution universe where galactic trade and aliens are established, but an unexpectedly invasive plant species wipes out all sorts of colonies and worlds. I shouldn’t recommend this, because I think a universe where we trade with aliens on a galactic or universal level is awesome, but it’s a valid storyline nevertheless.

So, Could Plants Be Behind a Pretty Terrifying Alien Invasion?

Absolutely. We can’t really stop plants --- even the plants we can stop eventually muscle and evolve their way past our herbicides, and even the plants we can control (there aren’t many) can be taken out by fungus or bacteria. I’m not saying that plants are the ideal first wave in an alien invasion strike.I’m just saying that they can be. 

And that, even when not weaponized or accidently brought by aliens we try to interact, communicate, or war with, plants can still take the planet.

They’re doing so right now.
Photo by eatatmarks
Be sure to leave a comment with your own ideas, objections, or suggestions for how else extra-terrestrial plant life can take over the world (and how we humans might survive it).

Rachel is the co-founder of How To Survive Alien Invasion Novels, and spends her time writing, studying, and reading what would probably considered far too many books. Connect with her and Rusty on Twitter and Facebook, and click here to read more of her articles about alien theories and how to survive alien invasion novels.

About Syed Faizan Ali

Faizan is a 17 year old young guy who is blessed with the art of Blogging,He love to Blog day in and day out,He is a Website Designer and a Certified Graphics Designer.

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