Casaubon's Book

Fake Plant Botany

Great article from “The Annals of Improbable Research” on “Artificae Plantae: The Taxonomy, Ecology and Ethnobotany of Simulacra.” It is about time someone did this research:

A previously unacknowledged plant family of significant economic importance plants has been flourishing around us for many years. The fact that this immense and diverse family has been heretofore ignored by most botanists is astonishing–its members are found worldwide in nearly every society. This family is more than a botanical curiosity. It is a scientific conundrum, as the taxa:

1.lack genetic material,
2.appear virtually immortal and
3.have the ability to form intergeneric crosses with ease, despite the lack of any evident mechanism for cross-fertilization.

I wonder where they’d place the play-dough gingko tree Isaiah made?



  1. #1 Claire
    October 13, 2010

    The family does appear to have the ability to evolve, at least since the 1950s. Quite a change from 1950s era plastic flowers to current so-called silk flowers, based on observations of my grandmom’s plants versus the ones I see for sale now. I think this deserves serious scientific investigation. Maybe we need to start a fund from which we can make grants for the study of evolution of Simulacra.

  2. #2 Lee Borden
    October 13, 2010

    I am something of an amateur observer of simulacra, in particular the branch of the taxum that tends to flourish on cemetery gravesites. I have noticed that these plants have a seemingly symbiotic relationship with a rigid green foam derived from petroleum. Wherever you find the simulacra, you find the foam. Amazing!

  3. #3 Greenpa
    October 13, 2010

    I’m afraid the phenomenon is much broader than suggested, since years (ok, decades) ago I identified a large colony of Eptesicus plasticus in the gift store at Carlsbad Caverns. It seems likely to me we’re observing the results of another plot by DuPont/Monsanto, to turn us all into zombies…

  4. #4 The Phytophactor
    October 13, 2010

    Me thinks a literature search is in order, references to Plantus plasticus have been around for decades and would clearly have taxonomic priority. One wonders about the state of peer review.

  5. #5 Greenpa
    October 13, 2010

    Phyto: “One wonders about the state of peer review.”

    lol. No, one doesn’t, if one’s been watching it recently… 🙂

  6. #6 Don
    October 13, 2010

    Another form of Simulacra that seems to have evolved significantly since the 1950s is Arboreus nativitatis, a species that, for some strange reason, people like to erect in their homes and decorate with painted glass globes and tiny electric lights each December. The ones from the 1950s had distinctive flat, silver-colored needles, but more recently the needles have more closely resembled those of the spruce or short-needled pine. They also evolved a more woody-looking central stem; in the older specimens, the stem resembled a dark-colored cylindrical tube.

  7. #7 Nat
    October 13, 2010

    Sharon, thanks for this post. I am one of the authors. Just a note, the title was cut off- it’s “Simulacraceae” as the name of the plant family to conform to the rigid standards of botanical nomenclature. We may have to describe a new genus for the play-dough gingko tree as we haven’t observed that one…. hmm… maybe Moldibulpastium gingkoidium ssp. isaiahii.

    Lee, the observation of the symbiotic (mutualist or parasitic) relationship between Plasticus spp. and the petrofoam is great! We’d observed some biodiversity of Simulacraceae in cemeteries in our longer version of the article at
    but missed this essential ecological aspect!

    And, Claire, we’re already on starting a multi-center interdisciplinary 10-year Simulagenome research program funded by the “National Science Foundation, United States Department of Agriculture, the National Institute of Mental Health, and the National Endowment for the Emancipation of the Humor Impaired (NEE-HI).” You should join us!

  8. #8 SimonG
    October 13, 2010

    No doubt you’re already aware of the plasticine plants which were exhibited at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show last year, and won a medal.

  9. #9 Greenpa
    October 14, 2010

    Nat- bless you! You’re filling a desperate need. 🙂

    May I suggest, for your next grant application, that an extended expedition to the great Pacific Ocean wabe is paramount. Clearly, this is likely to be the core for the evolution of polybased life forms.

  10. #10 Greenpa
    October 14, 2010

    sorry, guess that has to be “unlife” forms.

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