plants on an alien planet

I am a botanist, so when I write about the alien planet Meniscus, it is only logical that I should populate the planet with lots of plant-like species.



A few of my characters are also interested in the plant-life. Odymn, my parkour-loving protagonist, wants to be able to live off the land, so she samples a tiny bit of every plant she finds and has gathered a considerable list of edibles (do not do this at home!). Madoline, who loves to cook, is interested in the edibles as well, since she can put them in her delicious stews. She is also interested in poisonous plants since she hates the local aliens; by Book Five, she has a reputation as Nan’math Madoline (Madoline the Contaminator), poisoner of hundreds of Dock-winders and Gel-heads. Kathryn, an artist, is interested in plants because they are great subjects for her drawings.


Odymn shows Madoline the toxic plant ‘dagger-drip’


As Kathryn drew more and more plants to illustrate the Meniscus books, I got the idea of creating a Flora of Meniscus. For the last few weeks, Kathryn and I have been drawing new plants, adding colour using GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) and thinking about plants on other planets.


‘find-a-way’ vine


Are these classifiable as plants? Perhaps. Perhaps not. But to the Humans, the non-botanists of Themble Hill, they look and act like plants.


Why do ‘plants’ on Meniscus resemble plants on Earth? Since they do not know the local names for plants, the Humans name the plants they find by the names they know. So the slag-ferns look like ferns, but they may not be ‘ferns.’


‘slag-fern’ looks like a fern, but may not be a ‘fern’


The plants that populate Meniscus illustrate a principle in biology: ‘form follows function.’ Over and over again, living things solve problems in similar ways. So the slag-fern, needing to access sunlight for energy, maximizes leafy area, using a strategy common to ferns on Earth. The principles of parallel and convergent evolution are expressions of similar strategies (for an explanation of parallel and convergent evolution, see )


In creating a Flora of Meniscus, I have learned so much. First, I have realized that passing mention of a new plant by one of my characters can never hope to detail the morphology of the plant. As a writer, I need to have my characters pause and report the sights, smells and even sounds that characterize these plants. Secondly, publishing this Flora will mean I have to learn to work with colour in my publishing platform, KDP. And lastly, I know I can use the Flora as a method of keeping my descriptions consistent in future stories.


At the rate I am working, I think the Flora of Meniscus may be out by the end of this year!



I hope you enjoy these samples of a few of the coloured drawings.


All my best!

Notice the plants around you!

Alexandra (a.k.a. Jane)

World-building: what to eat on an alien planet?

Food is one of the most basic Human needs, necessary for survival. But what do Humans eat on an alien planet? What do they eat when they escape from the tyranny of the Dock-winders and have no access to the high-tech resources of the planet?


Odymn, the heroine of the Meniscus stories, is skilled at finding edible wild plants. This is in part because her father taught her the basics of natural history at home on Earth. She also uses her curiosity to discover the edible among the plants she finds.

Odymn picks

a leaf

from an unfamiliar plant.

Takes a nibble.


Shoos Madoline’s hand away.


“I test new plants I find,”

says Odymn.

“Just one per sun-reel,

so I know

which leaves or roots or berries

make me sick.”

(Do not try this at home on Earth!)


When they combine Odymns knowledge and the wood lore of the furry Argenops, the Humans of Themble Hill have a range of foods to choose from:

  • roots – arbel corms and ransindyne
  • fruit – spenel berries, yarnel, thief-bush berries and sloe
  • seeds and legumes – gettle gourds and grammid beans
  • greens – slag-fern, glasswort, ishlin, and zill
  • and the sweet sap of the pilinoth tree


The Slain hunt for wild kotildi meat and have access to the Dock-winder markets, so they add to the variety of the diet. Items include oranges (brought from Earth since they will not grow on Meniscus), MRE (meals ready-to-eat, also from Earth) and chocolate (no diet is complete without chocolate).


Kathryn, who escaped a transport crash to join the Humans of Themble Hill, is an artist and she has drawn many of the plants in the Themble Woods.



The nodding arbel is the first edible wild planet introduced in the Meniscus Series.  The plant produces an edible corm and its leaves can be used to make an analgesic tea.

Gnaw of an empty stomach.

A cluster of arbel flowers,

green and nodding.


She digs with her good hand.

Finds the corm, rubs it white,

slides it into her mouth.





In Meniscus: Crossing The Churn Odymn uses her parkour skills to reach the branches of yarnel and its juicy fruit. The bark of yarnel is bulbous, depicted on the cover of Meniscus: The Village at Themble Hill.

A glimpse of crimson,

high in the canopy.


Rolls to running. Two steps on a trunk.

Grabs a branch. Swing and push

to standing.


Yarnel kernels gleam.

A pomegranate turned inside-out.

Tart and juicy. 





The gettle gourd is first introduced in Meniscus: Winter by the Water-climb as a staple in the gardens of the furry, friendly Argenops. The seeds are a major food-source. The gourds can be used as an odd-shaped ball in a game or as a substitute for a jack-o-lantern.

Nine hollow


arranged at intervals.


Belnar picks one up.

Reaches in.

Pulls out

a half-burned candle.



says Vicki.


to her people.”




I hope you have enjoyed this brief look at the vegetation on planet Meniscus. If the plants resemble some of Earths plants quite closely, just know I am a strong believer in convergent evolution.


All my best,