Triffid

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Triffids are large, walking, carnivorous plants from John Wyndham's 1951 post-apocalyptic novel, The Day of the Triffids.

Description

Drawing of a Triffid by John Wyndham

...A triffid is certainly distinctive, and we couldn't help getting a bit curious about it... it is difficult to recall how odd and somehow foreign the first ones appeared to us....

...He inspected the straight stem, and the woody bole from which it sprang. He gave curious... attention to the three small, bare sticks which grew straight up beside the stem. He smoothed the short sprays of leathery green leaves between his finger and thumb as if their texture might tell him something. Then he peered into the curious, funnel-like formation at the top of the stem... inside that conical cup... the tightly wrapped whorl within... looked not unlike the new, close-rolled frond of a fern, emerging a couple of inches from a sticky mess in the base of the cup... there were flies and other small insects struggling in it....

The bole, which I now saw for the first time, was shaggy with little rootlet hairs. It would have been almost spherical but for three bluntly tapered projections extending from the lower part. Supported on these, the main body was lifted about a foot clear of the ground. When it 'walked' it moved rather like a man on crutches. Two of the blunt 'legs' slid forward, then the whole thing lurched as the rear one drew almost level with them, then the two in front slid forward again. At each 'step' the long stem whipped violently back and forth....

The traveller very easily failed to notice one among the normal bushes and undergrowth, and the moment he was in range the venomous sting would lash out. Even the regular inhabitant of such a district found it difficult to detect a motionless triffid cunningly lurking beside a jungle path. They were uncannily sensitive to movement near them, and it was hard to take them unawares....

The largest specimen ever observed in the tropics stood over ten feet high....

It was quite a while... before anyone drew attention to the uncanny accuracy with which they aimed their stings, and that they almost invariably struck for the head. Nor did anyone at first take notice of their habit of lurking near their fallen victims. The reason for that only became clear when it was shown that they fed upon flesh as well as upon insects. The stinging tendril did not have the power to tear firm flesh, but it had strength enough to pull shreds from a decomposing body and lift them to the cup on its stem....

There was no great interest, either, in the three little leafless sticks at the base of the stem... their characteristic of suddenly losing their immobility and rattling a rabid tattoo against the main stem....

'But it's absurd, plants talking!'

'Any more absurd than plants walking?' he asked.

It was a curious thing that in all my dealings with triffids such a possibility had never occurred to me... but once he put the idea into my mind, it stuck. I couldn't get away from the feeling that they might indeed be rattling out secret messages to one another....

'...Somewhere in them is intelligence. It can't be seated in a brain because dissection shows nothing like a brain - but that doesn't prove there isn't something there that does a brain's job. And there's certainly intelligence there, of a kind....'


— John Wyndham, Day of the Triffids

Triffids are capable of "stinging" humans and other victims with the coiled tendril hidden in the cup-like flower at the top of their stem, and the sting of a full-grown triffid (generally 8-10 feet, or up to three metres tall, possibly taller in jungles) can easily kill a full-grown man. These strange, carnivorous, walking plants then tend to wait around the body of their fallen victims until the body decays enough for the triffid's tendril to rip shreds of flesh from the body and feed it into the triffid's flower. It is possible to "dock" (remove) the stinger to render the plant harmless until the stinger grows back in about two years.

Triffids are slow-moving, capable of shambling about at roughly the walking speed of a human being, but their stinging tendrils tend to have a long reach (10-15 feet or 3-4.5 metres), while Triffids have a tendency to work together in packs and lay surprisingly effective ambushes (by hiding, for example, naturally camouflaged in natural jungle foliage), and Triffids can be especially dangerous to the very young, the elderly, injured, or infirm, and those unaware of or otherwise unable to see their presence.

Triffids may possess a rudimentary intelligence and the ability to talk to one another and perhaps to "see" by echo-location; researchers have observed that removing the three "clatter-sticks" growing around the stem results in the triffid slowly wasting away, as if from a lack of contact with others of its kind and/or a lack of sensory input, as seen in higher animals and humans.

Triffids produce seeds in a small pod at the base of the cup-like flower at the end of their stems; once a year the pods explode, scattering thousands of seeds born on gossamer sails into the wind, where they might travel for kilometers before landing. Fortunately, up to 95% of these seeds are infertile.

Triffids can be harvested for a highly nutritious and industrially valuable pinkish oil, but docking the stinger tends to degrade the quality of the oil, so it's best to harvest oil from a dangerously intact Triffid. The oil is highly flammable, rendering Triffids vulnerable to fire.


Heresies and Controversies

An illustration from the cryptic Voynich Manuscript
  • Triffids are mentioned among many other bizarre, unearthly plants in the tome known as the Voynich Manuscript. (the crude drawings in this real-life tome might represent anything)
  • Triffids have some form of rudimentary intelligence, at least equivalent to packs of hunting wolves or dogs, and perhaps even greater, and 'talk' to each other by rattling their "clatter-sticks" against their stems. (implied by the original 1951 novel, and discussed by characters in their speculations)
  • The origins of Triffids are hazy, confused, and conflicting, and might never be known for certain by anyone. (implied by the original 1951 novel)
  • Triffids were in some way specially bred through Soviet super-science in the early 20th Century, presumably for industrial, agricultural, or more sinister purposes, and were accidentally released all over the world in the mid-20th century when a plane carrying a defecting double-agent carrying a box of seeds was shot down, scattering the seeds to the wind. (speculation from the narrator of the original 1951 novel)
  • Triffids were originally found in the jungles of Africa and exploited for industrial/agricultural purposes. (2009 BBC TV serial)
  • Triffids were carried to Earth from space in a mysterious astronomical event that blinded anyone who saw it. (1962 film)
  • Triffids are killed by exposure to salt water. (1962 film)
  • See also the Discussion tab for other fan theories and suggestions....


Associated Mythos Elements and Keeper Notes

The novel The Day of the Triffids is not tied in any way to the "Cthulhu Mythos", and there are no associated mythos elements present or implied in the text of the novel. In keeping with the theme of the triffids' alleged jungle origins (vaguely suggested in the novel and more directly suggested in one of the BBC TV serials based on the novel), the alleged extraterrestrial origin (suggested in the 1962 film), and intelligence of the plants (strongly implied in the novel), Keepers might import triffids alongside such elements as:

  • Shub-Niggurath's fertility/agricultural cults
  • Tcho-Tcho people, who might have similar dietary habits and perhaps a shared jungle habitat
  • The Voynich Manuscript (a real life tome) with its bizarre drawings of inexplicable plants
    • a connection to this tome might imply that Triffids originate in Atlantis, Mu, Lemuria, Leng, or even some sort of alternate dimension
    • long-submerged seeds might lay buried in the mud of the corpse-city R'lyeh, and begin growing into full-sized Triffids if exposed to fresh air and sunlight....
  • cults worshiping Triffids as gods, led by spell-casting Triffid sorcerers
  • cults of intelligent Triffids worshiping something else
  • Miskatonic University jungle expeditions
  • Triffid seeds blown on the winds of space, accompanied by Byakhees, Elder Things, Nightgaunts, Mi-Gos, and other star-faring creatures
  • What might happen if the already unnatural growth of a Triffid were to be enhanced by exposure to the effects of a Colour Out of Space?
  • The jungle setting, hard-to-see plants, and the Triffids' rattling method of communication might provide some nice misdirection for a Delta Green adventure that seems at first to follow the plot of Predator (1987 film).

References