“I believe this tree is talking to us.” — C-3PO
Sentient life comes in many different forms, shapes, and classifications. Although rarer than animals, plant life has also developed sentience across the Star Wars galaxy. Roughly one-and-a-half percent of known sentient life has a botanical origin. And like animals, plants exhibit a range of sentience, from very crude to highly intelligent. At the bottom of the classification system is the plant analog of what anthropologists such as Mammon Hoole would consider a “non-sentient.” While most plants will not respond to external stimuli like animals would (don’t argue about that with a Reeksa survivor), those attuned to a plant’s Force presence will confirm that quite a few of them do have a mind of their own. Jedi describe the life force from plants as an internal hum, each “vibrating according to its own particular emotion, some low and oscillating, others pulsing high and bright to match the explosions of flowers that spring from their stems”.
The most basal of species that are considered to have some form of intelligence are these plant species that are incapable of communicating with the outside world not specifically familiar to their presence. And although they may be aware of their surroundings beyond the most basic perceptions of light, gravity, temperature and chemicals, few beings would ever consider them more than weeds or decorations. Species like the Malpaso tree, Pulsifarian moss colonies and Onderonian bamboo can be included in this group. Plants can exhibit Force sensitivity equal to that of animal species. One of the more Force-sensitive plant species in the galaxy is the Murakami orchid. It is said to bond to individuals and speak to them telepathically, and needs close proximity after bonding to stay alive. During the Cold War that followed the Great Galactic War, Sith Lord Darth Scabrous used a Murakami orchid that had bonded to Jedi AgriCorps worker Hestizo Trace to create a virus that would grant him eternal life. The effect, however, was a completely self-aware virus that turned all infected beings into undead monstrosities.
Some semi-sentient plants on the surface of the Mid Rim world Ithor also possess telepathic capabilities, such as the Bafforrs. These glowing, pale blue trees with black leaves have limited intelligence on their own, but close proximity to other specimens increases their intellect, possibly through a network of interconnected roots links the trees together. The collective conscience of seven trees is considered to be fully sentient, with whole forest surpassing the intelligence of most known beings. Their combined intelligence and telepathic communication are probably the origin of the entity known as Mother Jungle in Ithorian religion, who has been known to call Ithorians down to the surface. Other Ithorian semi-sentient plant life, such as the Vesuvague can even be trained to act in response to simple instructions. These carnivorous trees with red bark are able to interpret spoken languages by sensing vibrations in the air, a technique they also employ to catch living prey.
The Panopticon willow, a tree that could live well over 800 years in age, can interpret its surroundings by using optical sensors resembling eyes. Each of the buds on its branches is tipped with a small, golden eye, that is able to focus onto a particular target. By moving its branches, the willow is also able to shift its view. Jedi are able to communicate with the Panopticon willow, allowing them to “see through its eyes” by touching its bark.
Further up on the evolutionary ladder (from an animal point of view), plants start developing a more sophisticated way of perceiving the outside world, and ways to alter it, as well as a higher form of individual intelligence. Individual intelligence is not necessarily a “higher form” of sentience than the clustered intelligence of groups of individuals, the latter are often able to grow into super-brains, where individual plants function much like the interconnected neurons in an animal brain. A super-brain sentience not unlike the Ithorian forests evolved in the Cygnus B system. The algae-beds there are considered extremely intelligent, but unable to move around and thus have little contact with the galaxy.
When species are not able to move around, their interaction with other species in the galaxy are often quite limited. The predatory plants on the desert world of Endregaad known as “oasis mothers” are mostly immobile trees that live on the rare pools of water. Their juvenile form (the “oasis child”) is mobile, and able to hunt living animals to feed to its parent. The harsh environment and lack of contact to other sentients made the oasis mothers very unethical, caring only for their own well-being. The Pliith are also immobile, but have found their way into galactic society. They require large amounts of nutrition and remain rooted in fertilizer, depending on others for locomotion, often by being wheeled around. Pliith are considered fully sentient, and even head businesses around the galaxy. Other fully sentient plant species can only move very slowly, such as the treelike Yarin or the plump Zongorlu.
Various species have adapted vines, roots, or similar body parts to function as manipulators and for locomotion, such as the Daltarri from the eponymous Mid Rim world. Two of their tentacles serve as arms, while other tentacle-like vines are used for moving around. The Ergesh of the Expansion Region planet Ergeshui resemble mounds of plant material with a variety of appendages. Some of these appendages served as manipulators, but others form optic and auditory sensors. An average Ergesh could reach a lifespan of 200 standard years and grow up to half a metric ton in weight. They have an asexual means of reproducing, planting a seed that spawns offspring. As a result, the Ergesh have no concept of gender. They are, however, quite involved in the galactic community, welcoming visitors to their world and eager to learn from others. When moving around the galaxy, the Ergesh use living ships called Starjumpers, which are powered by their own life energies. The Orgons of Gorsh also use their tentacles for food absorption. By secreting powerful acids they essentially digest their prey outside their body, absorbing the nutrients through their appendages.
The Fftssfft, better known by their Ewok-given name “Dandelion Warriors”, have evolved into being with leg-like appendages to move around. These semi-sentient beings are also very protective of their homelands on Endor, defending it in a territorial way, much like animals would. The Kindalo that live in the underworld of Aleen physically resemble dead trees, with phosphorescent patterns over their entire bodies. They are also able to move around on two leg-like trunks and stand an imposing 3.1 meters tall. The bio-luminescent patterns are a feature seen in many other plants on Aleen, and the Kindalo use this light to illuminate the caverns they live in. The air on the surface of the planet is poisonous to all life living in the underground caverns, and as such, the Kindalo guard the passages between the two ecosystems and are capable of inducing earthquakes to seal any breaches. A logical result is that there have been very few interactions between the Kindalo and the galactic community, giving them an almost mythological status.
One of the more well-known botanical sentients are the Revwien. Standing on strong leaves that act as legs, they resemble a fruit. These natives of the Outer Rim World of Revyia are often seen preaching their way of life, the Tyia. The Tyia is a Force tradition that focuses on peace, spiritual unity and respecting life. Revwien can use their leaves to sense vibrations (an analog of hearing) and smell. Like most plants, they perform photosynthesis, the process of carbon fixation by absorbing sunlight. Their impact on the galaxy at large is mainly based on their technological advances in plant sciences and cultivation, using plants for various purposes such as healing.
The Neti are a rare sight in the galaxy, but are among one of the species that are most attuned to the Force. Famous Jedi like Ood Bnar, Garnoo, Uro Koo and T’ra Saa were all Neti, as was Sith librarian Dail’Liss. They are thought to have evolved on Myrkr, but for reasons unknown moved their society to Ryyk in the Mid Rim. When Ryyk was destroyed when its star went supernova, their species became all but extinct. A few members survived and were able to spawn offspring, keeping their species part of the galaxy. Neti reproduce only once every few centuries, by producing seeds that can remain dormant for long periods. Neti are known for their ability to switch between their two adult stages. In the tree-like state, which can reach heights of up to five meters, a Neti can remain inactive for centuries, merely pondering their surroundings. The other state is a more humanoid-shaped form, in which they are fully mobile.
Zelosians are often classified as near-humans, although that term is biologically incorrect. Zelosians are a plant species that have evolved on Zelos II, and have a build that closely resembles the human appearance. How this has come to be is subject of much speculation, and it might be a form of highly developed mimicry on the part of the Zelosians. Many Zelosian biologist, though, theorize that their species has been genetically engineered by outsiders, as the odds of naturally evolving into a near-human form are extremely low. There is, however, no proof of such genetic engineering. Since their skin coloration is practically the same as that of the ubiquitous baseline humans, Zelosians are almost impossible to tell apart from umans, and they have opted to keep their plant origins a closely guarded secret.
Although not technically a plant species, but a fungus, a form of mimicry is observed in the Wirutid. These sentient, ambulatory fungi have evolved into a human-like form, and to the unsuspecting observer they can be virtually indistinguishable from any near-human species. Not much is known about the Wirutid, except that they are highly intelligent. They use their mimicry to ensure their own safety and secure shelter, and are known to trap prey by impersonating a human life form. The Wirutid home world remains an unknown, but they have been encountered in some of the more disreputable districts of Coruscant.
The Zelosians are sometimes seen as the pinnacle of plant evolution, but that is a very humanocentric way of looking at non-mammalian intelligent life. While they may have an advantage over others, in a sense of mobility and adaptability to the human-based societies that dominate the galaxy, a humanoid shape is not a sign of superiority. Sentience comes in many shapes and forms. Natives of Dom-Bradden, the Affytechans truly resemble a plant in the traditional form, each individual being unique, with different growth patterns of leaves, petals, tassels and tendrils. The Zeffliffl, on the other hand, look much like ordinary seaweed, but neither of this species is any less intelligent than the average mammalian sentient. Next time you might want to think twice before pulling out those weeds in your garden, plants may have feelings too!
– Alien Encounters (Paul Sudlow, 1998)
– Galaxy Guide 12 (Bill Smith, 1995)
– Red Harvest (Joe Schreiber, 2010)
– The Essential Guide to Alien Species (Ann Margaret Lews, 2001)
– The Sand Tender: The Hammerhead’s Tale (Dave Wolverton, 1995)
Kevin Beentjes (Wild Whiphid) is a molecular biologist working at the Dutch natural history museum. He’s currently involved in the creation of the Rogues Gallery feature in Star Wars Insider, is an editor for TeeKay-421, an administrator for Yodapedia, and fascinated with the myriad of alien life forms, in that galaxy far, far away.