A view of the steaming jungles of Venus from the Erycinian Highlands by Mark Foster (www.hplovecraftart.blogspot.com)
Lovecraft and Sterling describe Venus as a world of steaming fens and jungles in the tale “In the Walls of Eryx.” The most sentient and “dominant” species on this world are some “man-lizards” who have a fairly primitive society. We will come back to the man-lizards in a future article; however, this article focuses on the endemic flora of Venus, with another to shortly follow that focuses on the fauna of Venus.
As noted throughout the tale, the dominant ecosystem on Venus appears to be tropical jungles. Thus, before we begin to talk about the endemic life on Venus let’s first briefly describe the Venus biosphere. First, since Venus is closer to the sun than Earth and it has a heavy cloud cover, its global temperature would by higher than Earth’s. Venus is an extreme case of global warming; runaway greenhouse effect. The cloud cover filters out some wavelengths from the sun but allows other in; at the same time the cloud cover prevents a certain portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, specifically the longer wavelengths such as the reds and the infrareds, from leaving the planets’ atmosphere. Infrared radiation, which is invisible to humans, is essentially thermal radiation (heat), resulting in the warming of Venus.
An artist’s rendition of cloud cover in the upper atmosphere of Venus (www.blog.physicsworld.com)
The high amount of red (light) and infrared radiation in the atmosphere of Venus was noted by Lovecraft in passages such as “…in the reddish rays of the weltering sun.” and “….the sun was sinking very low in the west – a golden-ruddy disc floating in a pool of scarlet and orange above the mist-clouded trees of the horizon.” However, it should also be noted that the sun would not sink in the west on Venus; it’s one of the few planets that rotates clockwise on its axis. Thus, the sun would sink in the east not the west. In addition a Venusian day is slightly longer than a Venusian year so the sun would pretty much remain in the same position throughout the tale.
In any event the result of these conditions is a warmer world; however, in spite of being closer to the sun than Earth, Venus would be a darker, dimmer world with a lower amount of light reaching the surface. Again Lovecraft notes a number of times that the world has a misty or twilight-like appearance. These lower levels of light but the higher amounts of reds and infrareds have a profound influence on the plants and animals that have evolved on Venus.
First, high temperatures and humidity means high rates of decomposition and this was noted by Lovecraft. Second, the lower light levels means the resident vegetation more than likely uses the reds and possibly infrareds for their version of photosynthesis. The vegetation may still have a greenish appearance for the small amount of green that enters the Venusian atmosphere. However, Lovecraft did note that some of the flowering plants were “… shifting in colour and getting wraith-like.” This shifting of color may be some type of adaptive photosynthesis where the plants modify their “light capturing” pigments to maximize their uptake of light energy. A side-effect of this may a shifting or changing of their color. The “wraith-like” appearance may be plants reflecting infrared radiation (heat) so to us it would make the plants look “ghostly” and semi-disappear since infrared radiation is invisible to the naked human eye. Obviously, using thermal-imaging cameras would be a way of testing this – if the wraith-like vegetation show up on thermal-imagining like we do (since we generate heat) it would support this hypothesis. With this background in mind, let’s review some of the Venusian flora.
Among the endemic vegetation of Venus by Mark Foster (www.vk.com)
Some of the Venusian vegetation looks similar to that found on Earth (both living and extinct). For example, some of the plants appear to be very similar to angiosperms (flowing plants) while others are similar to low-lying mosses. Tree-ferns were also noted on the broad mossy plateau called the Erycinian Highland. Essentially a fern with a trunk elevating the fronds above the ground is considered a tree-fern (of the order Cyatheales). Not surprising, these plants tend to be found in tropical and subtropical regions on Earth.
Tree-ferns on Earth (www.rhs.org.uk)
Some of the extinct (at least on Earth) plants that were identified on Venus include Lepidodendrons, which are vascular tree-like plants that are sometimes compared to club mosses but are more closely related to quillworts.
Given the low levels of light reaching the surface of Venus many of the endemic vegetation have adapted strategies to aid in supplementing photosynthesis for their nutrient and energy demands. An example of such a strategy is the higher abundance of carnivorous plants found on Venus relative to Earth. Others function more as fungi than plants. Such supplemental strategies help these plants to survive when light levels are negligible for prolonged periods of time on Venus. Some of the endemic vegetation is briefly reviewed below:
Ugrats – a general term for carnivorous plants. If one is not aware or highly mobile the flowering heads of these plants still attempt to feed on any organic material it is in contact with.
Efjeh-weeds – a vine-like plant with necrophagous feelers, which means it generally feeds on dead biomass. Based on the observations made in the tale, these weeds may function more like an aggressive form of fungus rather than a plant. The weeds appear and feed off the remains of dead organisms after most of the resident animals have fed on the bodies. The efjeh-weeds also appear to feed off of organic material in general such as leather. Thus, it is hypothesized that like fungi, these weeds excrete exoenzymes to help digest and break down organic matter, to then be assimilated for energy.
Mirage-plants – plants with shaggy stalks, spiky leaves and mottled blossoms. These plants emit a gas that results in “dream-breeding.” I hypothesize that this dream-breeding is in reference to putting a victim to sleep then using the individual’s body as a platform for pollination or possibly as a means of transportation to another plant (as the individual wanders off in their hallucinogenic haze) for pollination. In addition to emitting a hallucinogenic gas the Mirage-plant also produces bioluminescence, which probably attracts animal life. This bioluminance appears to increase in frequency and magnitude as an animal approaches and then declines as they walk away. Indeed, bioluminescence of the Venusian vegetation is probably fairly common, again as a means of attracting prey and/or pollinators in the dim and misty light of Venus. Thus, the appearance of bioluminance is probably strongly correlated to temperature and/or light.
Examples of some Venusian Flora by Mark Foster (www.hplovecraftart.blogspot.com)
To summarize, the low light levels on Venus have resulted in alternative adaptive strategies of its endemic vegetation such as predation and saprophagous feeding. The next article will be a discussion on the fauna of Venus. In addition, sometime over the next few days I will post a guest article on the Flying Polyps. Thank you – Fred.