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Killer Plants: Sex, Science and Fiction in the Greenhouse

Hear all about the fascinating rise of killer plants in science fiction, such as in John Wyndham’s ‘Day of the Triffids‘. At the end of the nineteenth century, orchids were among […]

Hear all about the fascinating rise of killer plants in science fiction, such as in John Wyndham’s ‘Day of the Triffids‘.

At the end of the nineteenth century, orchids were among the most desirable, collectable and exotic flowers to grace British greenhouses, but despite the hours spent watering and tending to them, they turned on their keepers and started trying to kill those who grew them. The first victim was a Mr Winter-Wedderburn, who almost died when a vampiric orchid tried to drain every drop of blood from his body; only his quick-thinking housekeeper’s intervention saved him. Others were not so lucky, and the list of fatalities grew slowly but steadily during the next few decades.

Fortunately, these attacks only occurred in fiction (Mr Winter-Wedderburn was a character in a short story by H.G. Wells), yet they present a curious puzzle for historians. By the early twentieth century, all kinds of plants had become deadly, sexy, mobile and – most noticeably – increasingly cunning. And they carried on cropping up in all kinds of fiction, from John Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids (1951) to Little Shop of Horrors (1982).  Yet there were no killer plant stories before the mid-nineteenth century. Jim Endersby will argue that to understand the rise of the killer plants, we need to look at a neglected part of Charles Darwin’s work – his botany – to discover how – and why — plants became so dangerous and exciting.

*Jim Endersby is Professor of the History of Science at the University of Sussex. He is the author of several award-winning books, including A Guinea Pig’s History of Biology, and Orchid: A cultural history.

Doors open from 7:00pm.

This event is available via Zoom and in-person. A Zoom link will be sent out the week of the event.

Make sure to visit our new exhibition, ‘Science Fiction: The area that inspired a genre’, which focuses on H G Wells, John Wyndham and Sir Alec Guinness and their work within the genre of science fiction. It explores how and why they came to live in the area and how the location impacted their work.

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