Plant science in...

Plant science in The Legend of Zelda

In 1986, Japanese game designers Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka created a game that would become popular with children and adults for the next 34 years. The Legend of Zelda series now consists of 19 games, with the latest release being “Link’s Awakening” in 2019.

Although the games have unique storylines, The Legend of Zelda games are action-adventures with a running theme. Generally in each game, the player takes on the role of Link, a brave, young man, determined to save the Kingdom of Hyrule from the warlord Ganon, with the help of Princess Zelda.

The fantasy world of Hyrule features many plants, both friend and foe. Link can interact with many of them, use some in food and elixirs to increase his strength and battle others as “final bosses”. In this post, we’re going to explore three plants from different games and meet their real-life counterparts.

Lily Pad

Lily Pads are found in many of the games, and most of the time they’re just there for aesthetics. However, in “A Link to the Past“, “Oracle of Seasons” and “Link’s Awakening“, Link can use the Lily Pads as solid platforms. Jumping from Lily Pad to Lily Pad might seem like the stuff of video games, but there is a real-life species capable of holding human weight.

Named in honour of Queen Victoria, Victoria water-lillies are often referred to as Giant Lillies for their incredible size, even being dubbed “huge floating tea trays”. The leaves can grow up to 3 meters in diameter and sit on a stalk that can grow up to 8 meters in length. The edges of the leaf curve up, to produce a rim about 20cm high.

There are two extant (living) species of Victoria: Victoria amazonica can be found in (you guessed it) the Amazon River Basin and Victoria cruziana which can be found more generally in South America. Both are capable of holding significant weight, thanks to the incredible structure of the underside of the leaf, which is highly veined.

These amazing leaves have some special adaptations. The space between the thick veins traps pockets of air and this gives the leaves their amazing buoyancy. And when it comes to the upturned rims, they have two functions: to help with stability during storms and to prevent the leaves from overlapping, which would reduce the amount of leaf that could photosynthesise [1].

Armoranth

One way to increase Link’s defences in “Breath of the Wild” is to cook Armoranth into a meal or elixir. These little purple herbs are found in great numbers, on the Akkala Highlands and along Hyrule Ridge. But what’s the chance of a real-life plant making you grow big and tough?

Armoranths might be exclusive to Hyrule, but Amaranth species can be found in Mexico and Central America. Amaranthus are summer annuals that generally have catkin like inflorescences. That means their flowers are densely packed along a stem. The name is derived from Greek, meaning “unfading flower“, due to the fact the dried flowers retain their colour.

Historically, the Aztec cultivated Amaranth (known to them as “huāuhtli“) for their grain. The plant was given the name “golden grain of the Gods” because of their nutritional benefits. Grain Amaranth has a higher protein composition than other cereals, with a protein percentage of 12-18% [2]. Meaning, both Amaranth and Armoranth will make you tougher.

For fun, I tried to identify which Amaranth species could be the one used to design Armoranth, and I think it looks fairly similar to Globe Amaranth (Gomphrena globosa). Featured in the image above, this species has beautiful, globe-shaped inflorescents, just like the Armoranth from Hyrule.

Although not used for its grain, this species is still edible and is used in traditional medicine to treat high blood pressure, hair loss and reduced immunity. The flowers come in a range of beautiful and vibrant colours and so have been used in decorative flowering tea.

Deku Baba

A recurring boss in The Legend of Zelda series is Deku Baba. In “Ocarina of Time“, “Majora’s Mask“, “Twilight Princess” and “Skyward Sword“, these carnivorous plants attack any unwitting passerby. While man-eating plants are the stuff of fantasy, you might be surprised to find out what our nibbly neighbours have consumed in real-life.

Deku Babas are based on Venus Flytraps (Dionaea muscipula). They’re perhaps the most famous carnivorous plants, but how Venus Flytraps function is not always common knowledge. They contain little trigger hairs. When a fly lands on the leaf, it touches a hair and sets off an “internal timer”. If the fly touches another hair, that’s when the trap snaps shut.

Using two hairs instead of one means the plants are more likely to capture a living fly, rather than bits of detritus that fall into the trap. As the name suggests, Venus Flytraps mostly trap flies, but other carnivorous plants are capable of capturing much more. The Giant Montane Pitcher Plant is capable of capturing and digesting rats.

In 2011, carnivorous plant expert Nigel Hewitt-Cooper found a dead blue tit inside on of his Monkey Cup Pitcher Plants. Although the plant hadn’t actively captured it, it seems the bird was trying to capture the bugs inside the Pitcher when it fell in [3]. Let’s just hope they don’t get a taste for bigger prey.

There are many other plants I could have included in this post, and perhaps I will do in a future post. Some obvious choices might have been The Great Deku Tree and Blue Nightshade, but I’ve covered plant communication and bioluminescent plants in my Plant Science in Avatar post. But stay tuned, part two will include Koroks!

Image credit:

Hero image: Nintendo

Zelda Lily Pad: EmptyGarbageCan on YouTube

Victoria Lily Pad: Even More Thailand

Armoranth: Gamepedia

Globe Amaranth: Image by naturepost from Pixabay

Piranha Plant: hXc Hector on YouTube

Venus Fly Trap: Image by Jemma Liggett from Pixabay

Sources:

Zelda Gamepedia

Zelda Fandom

[1] Lamprecht, I., Schmolz, E., Hilsberg, S., and Schlegel, S. (2002). A tropical water lily with strong thermogenic behviour – thermometric and thermographic investigations on Victoria cruziana. Elsevier.

[2] Stallknecht, G.F. and Schulz-Schaeffer, J.R. (1993). Amaranth Rediscovered. New Crops. Wiley, New York.

[3] One of my plants has eaten a BLUE TIT!

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