Today we will be talking about the spookiest plants you can put in your Halloween game. We’re not here to discuss the most toxic plants, because let’s be honest – death by poison is a rather boring thing to play out at the table. Instead, we’re about to go for a deep dive into the weirdest, the creepiest, and most horrifying.
Probably one of the most devious plants in folklore. It is planted and tended to by the devil himself, who only leaves it unattended for one night every year – Walpurgis night, known as Witches’ Sabbath. Which is, by the way, the night of 30th April to 1st May. While Devil’s out carousing, this toxic bush changes into a mysterious enchantress, as beautiful as she is deadly.
This lovely carnivorous plant grows in lakes and ponds. The floating stems are covered in transparent bladders, almost invisible underwater. They suck in everything that comes in contact. All it takes is a fraction of a second, and a poor insect or a fish are trapped with no chance of escaping. Now, bladderwort is too tiny to be of any risk to a human… But in your game, it doesn’t have to be.
Did you ever have the players’ characters walking through the forest and feeling as if they’re being observed? If not, this is the perfect opportunity to give them a taste. White baneberries are known as doll’s eyes, for probably obvious reasons. Next time the party feels too perky with their survival skills, they can have those disembodied eyes on fleshy stalks follow them around.
4. Corpse Flower
This beauty is native to rainforests of Sumatra and can grow to over three meters tall, which is equivalent to a portion of a football field, probably. Not only the main leaf has the color and texture of fresh meat, the whole thing also stinks of rotting flesh and for as long as it’s blooming, it stays at the temperature of the human body. It also has a ridiculous Latin name if this is your type of humor. No judgement.
Also known as monkshood and wolfsbane. As the story goes, the first plant grew from the saliva of Cerberus, and ever since, it is strongly connected to all kinds of lore about wolves and werewolves. If you ever need some lycanthropy-adjacent potions or elixirs, aconite is your best bet.
6. Ghost Plant
If, like myself, you grew up with stories about dark, scary forests, you’ll feel right at home. These delicate, parasitic flowers need no sunlight and can grow even in complete darkness. Usually white or pink, they can appear overnight like a tiny army of ghosts. Fun fact: in the 19th century, they have been used in Europe as an anti-anxiety medication, and I am personally convinced that they are the reason for the existence of Hattifatteners, which were the biggest scare of my childhood.
7. Pitcher Plant
A scent of sweet nectar drives the misguided and misinformed straight into the shapely, colorful pitchers. Where they get trapped and slowly drowned and digested, of course, because nature is more metal than one usually thinks. Some of the pitcher plants come equipped with specialized leaves creating fake exits and mini-labyrinths to keep the poor prey occupied while it dies.
Everybody’s favourite – it’s toxic, it’s hallucinogenic, it’s going to kill you with its scream when you pull it out of the ground. Obviously. Enterprising harvesters were using pigs or dogs for the operation, hoping the curse will befall the animal, although technically, it’s the string that should get hurt. In any case, the humanoid roots of mandragora were thought to cure anything from impotence to cancer, work as voodoo dolls, and sometimes walk around on their tiny legs and become familiars to witches and warlocks.
9. Venus Flytrap
There is just something inherently terrifying about the idea of a giant maw closing around you. Trapped in the darkness, fighting to escape, you can feel the digestive fluid slowly coating your body. Soon, you struggle to breathe… If you’re a fly, that is – or if your game master upsized the plant a bit. I don’t know if it helps that the digestion process takes around ten days, but it is a thing you know now.
10. Red Tide
We’re starting to cheat from here, because the following aren’t technically plants. They are, however, way too spooky to not be discussed. Red tide is caused by blooming algae. If you ever get stuck on the sea adventure, because the players’ characters have stolen a ship and now need to sail for two months in whichever direction, give them the proper fright by changing their whole environment into red, murky depths full of poisoned fish and shellfish, dead octopuses, and the unfortunate Kraken with an upset stomach. Oh, did I mention that the air is now full of toxins too?
11. Bleeding Tooth Fungus
Number eleven: bleeding tooth fungus, also known as devil’s tooth – by a very specific type of people, also known as strawberries and cream. These fungi ooze thick, blood-like substance – fun fact: the secretions have anticoagulant properties, so they can really make you bleed. Add to that nasty-looking spikes that cover the base, and you have a recipe for a Halloween special.
12. Octopus Stinkhorn
A treat for all you warlock types. One look at these fleshy eggs erupting in an array of crimson tentacles, and you start designing a Fungus Warlock Patron for your next campaign. If the Devil’s fingers aren’t haunting you yet, just think about the fact that this lovely mushroom smells of putrid flesh and has a global distribution – which means there are probably some growing quite close to wherever you are.
13. Vampire Pumpkins and Watermelons
This folktale comes from the Balkans, the source of all best vampire stories. According to the account, any pumpkin or watermelon that has been left outside in the night during a full moon will turn into a vampire, free itself from the ground and go for a hunt. They leave a trail of blood behind them, as they slowly creep towards houses full of sleeping people. (Read more on Wiki.)
Now, as it is the year 2020, let me just say that this Halloween is going to happen with a full moon right there on the sky, because of course it is. Even more, according to the Internet, the full moon will also be visible from every single place on the planet, for the first time since 1944. Oh, and it’s a blue moon.
In short, we’re doomed.
What’s Your Favourite?
So, what’s your Halloween favorite? Are you planning on using any creepy plants in your games or books? Let us know in the comments before the vampire pumpkins eat us all!
Well, not really – but I’ve finished twentieth plant entry from the planned hundred, and I think it calls for a celebration. Or, at least, for noting it in a blog post for future reference.
If you haven’t heard of the project, Herbalist’s Primer is my pet project: an illustrated guide to real-world magical plants. It’s a guide for beginner herbalists, magicians, witches, and alchemists. It’s an exercise in whimsy: a mix of honest-to-science botany, even more enjoyable ethnobotany and folklore, the modern occult, and a completely fantastical resource for tabletop roleplaying and writing fantasy novels.