The Beginning Botanist’s Guide to Lair Defense

An essay by Lady Jelique D’Avern, as provided by John A. McColley
Art by Dawn Vogel

The below information represents years of research into the field of cryptobotany, including active experimentation and cultivation. I present an offering to fellow scientists who find themselves oft disturbed from their own projects by the interloping of dull-witted adventurers. Rebuff those seeking to thwart the summoning of this otherworldly being or completion of that behemoth steam-powered village flattener! Such invaders may be put off by rows or patches of the below plants, all of which are available from my personal growing houses for barter or coin of the realm, by individual negotiation.

This beginner’s list is meant to accommodate even the blackest of thumbs and introduce this meditative and useful pastime to those interested in the fields of cryptobotany. If this opening treatise is successful, lists for experienced and expert botanists will be forthcoming.


Devil’s Thumb aka Scorpion Weed
Digitus diabolicus

Aspect: Clustered, dark green leaves alternate around the base of one to four stems. The stem itself is green to brown to varying heights, curled tightly at the end, not unlike fern fiddleheads, though possessing a hidden sting at the terminus. Flowers are rare, but range from yellow to white radially arranged narrow petals. They grow from specialized stalks and form hard, hook-covered seed pods.

Habitat: I first learned of this hardy little darling while searching for manticores to hire as guards for a desert encampment to research my now famous sand animation charms. In the craggy hills at the southern edge of the Jurai Desert, not far from the sandstone pits, D. diabolicus grows in small clusters anywhere it’s not overshadowed by rock formations or other plants.

Efficacy: The uses here are obvious: along a path, amid low grasses, D. diabolicus lays in wait until it senses motion and lashes out, delivering a venomous sting which is particularly damaging to horses, but works quite well to paralyze local muscle groups in any mammals, slowing their gaits to one quarter their normal speed. This leaves them easy picking for any minions or other plants on this list.

Care: Being of desert climes, these plants like as much direct sunlight as possible, but take very little effort. Place them in the proper sandy to rocky soil and keep them from getting too much water, and they will survive for years, producing new plants wherever their victims fall, thus fertilizing themselves and increasing their population. They initially root in the bodies themselves, though, so if one is worried about spreading to unwanted areas, merely have your minions drag the corpses to a more desirable location.

Dangers: Besides the obvious of utilizing minions with thick hides or armor to move, prune, and otherwise tend D. diabolicus, there are no immediate dangers. Their effects are very localized and as stated above, their spread is easily controlled. They do not produce pollen to irritate the eyes or nose, nor do they migrate.

Other Uses: Venom may be collected weekly from any particular plant without putting too much stress on it. The venom may be kept for up to a week before it loses significant efficacy, and therefore can be used on minions’ arrows, spears, or any kind of spiked or bladed weapon.

Deactivation: One often finds it necessary to render a trap or defender inert for a time in order to access a lair, retrieve a treasure, or as stated above, “milk” venom from their garden defenders for other uses. In this case, D. diabolicus will be distracted by water introduced into the soil around it or on its surface. As a desert survival mechanism, it has small vesicles along its roots into which it will draw said water and while it is occupied with this task, one might bypass it. Plants are not by and large very intelligent and can only do one thing at a time.

The Beginning Botanist's Guide to Lair Defense

This beginner’s list is meant to accommodate even the blackest of thumbs and introduce this meditative and useful pastime to those interested in the fields of cryptobotany. If this opening treatise is successful, lists for experienced and expert botanists will be forthcoming.

To read the rest of this story, check out the Mad Scientist Journal: Autumn 2013 collection.

Jelique D’Avern is an avid traveler. Her journeys have led her to discover a dozen plants species and pen four volumes of herbological lore. While at home, she tends her magnificent gardens, gathering magical components from many of the plants for herbalchemy experiments. She also collaborates with her husband, Count Havol D’Avern, in his development of new mechamagical devices in their lovely vintage castle on a rise overlooking the Wens River and the hamlet of Byfor.

John A. McColley lives in a vortex of worlds, characters, machines and language, constantly dragging images and forms out of the storm onto canvas, paper or computer screen to share them with others and give them new life. When not wrestling with words, he cranks dials and makes sparks at his local hackerspaces and searches the wilds of New Hampshire for semi-precious stones with his fiancée. For more info, check out his author page on Facebook: and a blog

Dawn Vogel has been published as a short fiction author and an editor of both fiction and non-fiction. Although art is not her strongest suit, she’s happy to contribute occasional art to Mad Scientist Journal. By day, she edits reports for and manages an office of historians and archaeologists. In her alleged spare time, she runs a craft business and tries to find time for writing. She lives in Seattle with her awesome husband (and fellow author), Jeremy Zimmerman, and their herd of cats. For more of Dawn’s work visit

Follow us online:
This entry was posted in Fiction and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.