Friday Flash Fiction: Surreal Botany specimen: Ulex pertorqeuo

To start things off, here’s a sort-of piece of Friday Flash Fiction (kudos to trendsetter Gareth L. Powell). Hopefully I’ll be participating in this at least every-other week. This week, here’s something I wrote for Two Crane Press’s Surreal Botany book. It was rejected, and since there’s not much else to be done with such a thing…

THE SPECIMEN:

Common name: Tremble-tree, Drunkard’s gorse, Bloody binder

Class and Order: Magnoliopsida, Rosales

Family and Genus: Leguminosae, Ulex

Appearance: Superficially similar to its common cousin U. europaeus, Drunkard’s gorse is a low shrub with dense intertwining branches, spiny leaves, and seasonally fragrant yellow blossoms. The key difference between the two species becomes apparent once U. pertorqueo achieves adulthood and has developed sufficient mass to trigger second-stage growth. A rule of thumb is that a shrub approaching three metres in diameter has achieved or is soon to achieve its second stage. At this point the plant sprouts an additional network of roots lined with puce-coloured sickle-shaped hooks. The plant then utilises these hooks to haul ground beneath itself, locating for itself a bed of soil containing large quantities of nutrient matter. The unusual trick U. pertorqueo possesses is the ability to remain in a static position while it does this; somehow the plant is capable of reshaping the land below and around it. It is also rumoured that this unusual ability is used to remove taller sun-blocking objects from the plant’s vicinity, although this is as yet unconfirmed.

Ecology: Drunkard’s gorse is a rare discovery as it is usually mistaken for its more common cousin. Its unique characteristics are only observed once the plant has achieved adulthood and critical mass, and as a result it is usually found in arid to temperate climates in heavily overgrown rural areas. In 1982 an untended specimen achieved second stage in an unfrequented urban environment, and regrettably hauled a residential building towards itself. The plant was crushed and several people injured in the resultant structural collapse. U. pertorqueo may exist in nations outside its native Great Britain, where it may have been transplanted when mistaken for its cousin, but no specimens have yet been confirmed.

Life cycle: Drunkard’s gorse develops steadily, extending roots and its family’s characteristic network of close branches, for the early part of its growth cycle. Once the plant has achieved adulthood and critical mass – if allowed to grow unmolested, the combined process takes around 12 to 15 years – second-stage growth is triggered. The plant’s unusual second set of roots sprout within a fortnight. After this point the plant self-regulates and does not appreciably grow or shrink in size unless trimmed. If trimmed, the plant experiences some dieback and its sickle roots decay. Drunkard’s gorse drops seeds seasonally in late summer and redistributes the scattered seeds using its unique method of “extro-locomotion” (Wallflower, 1872).

ADDITIONAL:

Date/location first discovered: Accidentally discovered in Sussex, England, 1872, by the celebrated herbalist and noted drunkard Sir Henry Wallflower. Wallflower established the distinction between U. pertorqueo and U. europaeus after vomiting into thick undergrowth and finding himself very suddenly propelled away from the area.

Any physiological impacts and/or medicinal use: Physical consumption of the surface plant has no unusual effects. Consumption of the second-stage roots results in severe nausea and, on rare occasions, the spatial relocation of the subject’s stomach.

History and mythology of the plant, if known: This unusual and unique plant is perhaps responsible for a great many accidents and stumbles amongst Britain’s ramblers and woodsmen throughout history, but has no confirmed connection with any regional or national cultures. It is argued by some British botanists that its roots may represent a link with ancient druidic culture. One of its names, “bloody binder”, has resulted from farmers and landscapers who mistakenly used U. pertorqueo in place of U. europaeus when planting hedges at the boundaries of fields.

Shaun Green, 2006

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