Red plants evolved when a plicozoan animal became infected with a virulent form of allorosea algae. The animal’s immune system eradicated the pathogen, but the damage was done. Some of the blood and skin cells were left with a plasmid – a remnant of the alga’s genome that coded for the entire photosynthesis pathway. More importantly, perhaps, the plasmid had made its way into the germ cells. Due to a quirk in this particular species’ reproduction, its haploid offspring inherited the plasmid but did not express the genes, but their diploid offspring did. This alternation of generations continued until it became the system seen today.
Red plants begin their lives as haploid larvae known as mobile fruits. The larvae are not photosynthetic, but some have retained the abilities of their plicozoan ancestors. That is, they can eat, drink, think, find a mate, and plant themselves in a suitible location. Their second stage of life is the diploid plant. The plant spends most of its time growing and acquiring nutrients until it is ready to bear fruit. Since there are no seasons on Ilion, some plants synchronize with windborne pheromones. Others simply produce year-round so there is always a mate to be found. Year-round strategists can avoid inbreeding by producing only one fruit at a time, or only fruits of one mating type at a time.
The ancestral red plants moved blood through their bodies with cilia-lined blood vessels. Naturally, this limited size quite a bit, so most plants have a pumping system. Cardiovascular systems are highly variant between plant species; in fact, hearts evolved more than once.
The bladder is a cavity derived from the plicozoan digestive system. It can be hollow, filled, open, or closed. Some plants use it for energy and water storage, others fill the bladder with air for buoyancy, and still others use it for its original purpose. The planted pot, for instance, traps and digests small animals and detritus in a soup of enzymes.
Anguilloids – These are the most ancestral red plants. Some remnant animal traits can still be seen in the plant form. Five to seven simple eyes line the sides of both the plant and its eel-like larvae. These also act as vestibular organs. The plant can scoot around the lakebed or ocean floor in search of the best patches of sun. Their retained mobility makes them well suited to the dynamic environment of buoyphyte rivers, lakes, and beaches.
Basiniformes – What used to be the stomach of the red plants’ plicozoan ancestor is now open to the air in this group. Once it’s filled with rainwater, the basin serves as a nursery for amphibious larvae until their fins are fully developed. Like mudskippers, the mobiles flop across the land to find a mate and germinate. Outside of breeding season, the pot can fill with digestive juices for trapping small animals. They are best suited to tropical lands and rash fields.
Aquaphores – Experts at storing water, aquaphores thrive in deserts. They employ a variety of defenses against thirsty creatures, but the humble thorn remains the most common and practical defense.
Buoyphytes – Buoyphytes are the foundation of three unique habitats. Tropical buoyphytes link together as islands drifting in the middle of the ocean. The islands are kept afloat by a core of air sacs and hollow vines from long-dead plants. They are stable enough to support large animals and even trees. Temperate coastal buoyphytes are a bit more tenuous. Freshwater buoyphytes range from surface scum to thick mats that obscure entire lakes. The tree of buoyphytes includes the red plant derivatives.
Black plant ancestor – An extinct group gave rise to the black plants. There is nothing quite like them living today. The entire group relied on a single family of social plicozoans for pollination and dispersal, as their haploid form had lost its mobility. When a stellar flare drove the pollinator extinct, only one species remained – the only wind pollinated plant among them.
Spiraformes – The body of this plant grows in a logarithmic spiral. The body can store several weeks’ supply of water and energy in the form of fat and protein. This, combined with a five-legged walking larva, makes this group highly adaptable to unpredictable conditions.
Scrubs – These thorn-tipped plants are quite a hazard to browsers and grazers in the shrublands and the savanna. They have exactly five leaves that grow continuously until they shrivel at the tips.
Calaveriformes – This clade is divided into two groups. The mobile fruits of aquatic calaveras are filled with waste gas, providing buoyancy in water. Land calavera fruits are filled with hydrogen, making them buoyant in the air. They wait until the winds have calmed before dispersing.
Floating Saucers – Named for the shape of their larvae, floating saucers inhabit giant kelp-like forests on the ocean floor.
1. Anguilloid swimming larva
2. Basiniform amphibious larva
3. Aquaphore six-legged walker
4. Buoyphyte swimming larva
5. Black plant ancestor immobile fruit
6. Spiraform five-legged walker
7. Scrub air floater
8. Scrub water floater
9. Floating saucer water floater
Unlike most floating saucers and scrub larvae, calaveras can control their movements with a rudder. When they find a partner, they hook onto each other and seek out a good place to sprout. Calaveras can be waterborne or airborne.
“Normally wind facilitates seed dispersal, but here, where a stiff breeze almost always blows from the south, the plants have to get creative if they want to cast their spawn in any other direction. One such strategy is to encase the seed in a floating pod capable of steering itself against the current. The mobile fruiting bodies of some Ilian red plants are not strong enough to resist the high winds on most days, so they must take refuge in caves while the gusty conditions persist, and only leave their shelter when the winds calm down. Their animal-like characteristics allow them to migrate upwind, away from the sun, where they will settle, germinate, and thrive.”
– Alex O’Hearn, biologist, Odyssey I
This description, while mostly accurate, makes it seem as if the mobile fruit is only a vehicle for the plant’s seeds, ready to germinate as soon as they touch soil. This is not so. Mobile fruits, like the caver calavera pictured above, only contain half the genetic material required to make a plant and need to mate with another fruit before germinating. The mating process is known in the field as coupling because the parents almost always fuse permanently.
Floating Saucer Larvae
All floating saucer larvae are waterborne, as they lack the ability to produce lighter-than-air gases. They defend themselves with a stinger at the tip of their coupling organ. Some species also have a stinging fringe on other parts of their body.
Spiraform Red Plant
Spiraformes grow in a logarithmic spiral, but this plant doesn’t show it on the outside. Slice it in half and it’ll look like an ammonite fossil. It spawns two or three five-legged walkers each cycle. Cycle, in this case, refers to the species’ own reproductive cycle. In the absence of days or seasons, each plant species runs on its own schedule. Animals usually synchronize with the local plants, or not at all. Many breed year round.
This plant’s mobile larvae are toxic to most animals, but some species’ larvae are an easy meal for predators. Like the periodic cicadas, they work around this by spawning in such large numbers as to overwhelm their predators’ appetites, ensuring the survival of a few to carry into the next generation. They may combine this strategy with an irregular spawning cycle coordinated with plant pheromones to catch their predators off guard.
Spiraform larvae are normally radially symmetrical but two separate lineages evolved bilateral symmetry. In the first group (top left), the coupling organ is in front and the fifth leg is usually adapted for hopping and kicking. In the second group, the coupling organ is in the back and the fifth leg is built for fighting. The larvae are fiercely territorial and will fight to the death until only two remain to couple and germinate.
Aquaphore larvae have two mating types: dexter and sinister. Besides being mirror images of each other, there is no difference between the two. In most species, two larvae of the same mating type are incompatible and cannot couple. In some, however, two larvae of the same type may couple to produce a plant that is different from one created from two opposite types. For instance, the Red Rock watertower is a tall, hardy tree if its parent fruits were sinister and dexter. If two dexters or two sinisters mate, the offspring is not a long-lived tree, but a fast-growing bush.
A plant produced by two sinister or two dexter larvae is said to be sinistral or dextral, respectively. An adult form produced by one of each is said to be ambidextral. Aquaphores can be classified by the types of plants that result from different combinations of larval mating types.
The mobile fruits of aquaphores have six legs, a coupling organ in the front, and two scent glands in the rear. They primarily use pheromones to find one another but the scent glands can be adapted for other uses as well. The most common use is defense, usually in the form of a stinger.
Central to the system is a colony of tightly interwoven red plants known as buoyphytes. As the name suggests, their air-filled bladders are necessary to keep the mat afloat. Any creature that tries to eat into the bladder is likely to drown in a bath of digestive enzymes; this is probably more effective as a defensive strategy than a nutrient source. Ammonia (a source of nitrogen) is already as abundant in the water as it is in the air. This does not mean, however, that the buoyphyte can survive on photosynthesis alone. In the absence of soil, the plant must trap and consume aquatic life in order to obtain phosphorus, bromine, sulfur, lead, calcium, iron, and other essential nutrients.
On the surface, lightweight wildlife can graze on the buoyphyte foliage as well as any other plants that may be growing out of the thin topsoil. Heavier animals such as the star walrus may deliberately break through the mat to hunt in the warm waters. A mold-like organism carpets the underwater surface, catching and decomposing detritus from the surface. The mold is a major food source for waterborne microbes, which in turn provide the foundation for the lake’s substantial animal population.”
– Alex O’Hearn, biologist, Odyssey I
All buoyphytes are aquatic but only some species are mat-forming. There are species adapted for the open ocean, coasts, rivers, and lakes. They can be free floating, interlocked, or rooted to a substrate, such as a riverbed. Buoyphytes reproduce vegetatively to expand their immediate reach, and sexually to disperse to other waterways.
Buoyphytes release their haploid offspring directly into the water. Their resemblance to basal red plant derivatives is no coincidence. These swimmers have the capacity to live much longer than other plants’ fruits and even eat food if their journey necessitates it. A particularly robust coastal buoyphyte larva brought forth an entirely new breed of animal life.
If buoyphyte larvae bear the closest resemblance to the first red plant derivatives, anguilloid larvae are the closest to the first red plants. Both the diploid phase and the haploid phase have seven pairs of simple eyes, although these usually atrophy in the mature plant.
Basiniformes produce amphibious larvae that develop from swimmers in the water-filled basin of the parent plant. Plants that live in variable conditions will sometimes direct the phenotype of their larvae by modulating the pH, salinity, and temperature of the bathwater. For instance, the Sienna Estuary planted pot will produce finned larvae when submerged and legged larvae when growing on dry land.
Assorted Red Plants
1. Dryland tangletrunk, a spiraform that thrives in high deserts of Deiphobus.
2. Blue-tipped calavera, a mountain plant rendered poisonous by a symbiotic blue mold.
3. Blood yam, a floating saucer commonly found in rivers in which the water flows against the wind. This allows their floating seeds to disperse in both directions, either by sailing upstream or drifting with the water’s flow.
4. Witch’s cauldron, a tropical carnivorous basiniform large enought to trap a small child.
5. Treetop spring, an epiphyte that provides animals with drinkable water above the pseudofungus layer of the Aeneas rainforest.
6. Carellos’s buoyphyte, one of two buoyphyte species endemic to a small system of lakes and rivers in Pandaros that includes Hidden Lake, surveyed by Odyssey I. This pale, small-bodied plant colonizes permanently shaded areas and relies on filter feeding to make up for a dearth of sunlight. Unlike the crimson buoyphyte, its colonies cannot support the weight of a large animal or human.