The botany behind the fantasy


It’s a good (and rare) morning when my twelve-minute commute yields two news stories in a row that make me smile. That happened today. The first one has no gardening relevance, but the second has special interest for both gardeners and Tolkien fans. Botanist Walter Judd has published a complete guide to the both the real and imaginary plants found in J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings series. It’s called Flora of Middle-Earth: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Legendarium.

One of Graham Judd’s illustrations

This is not the first book on this topic; there is at least one other by author Dinah Hazell, but a quick comparison favors the Judd book, which, after categorizing and explaining the plant communities, with a section on plant morphology, lists 160 plants in alphabetical order. The illustrations by Graham Judd are beautifully drawn in the style of woodcut prints.

It will come as no surprise to Tolkien readers/fans (I’m more a appreciative reader than a rabid fan) that he loved nature and plants and filled his novels with descriptions of forests, prairies, wildernesses, and domestic gardens. When you think of it, the characters are nearly always outside. Many Tolkien scholars view the author as an environmentalist who warned against the dangers of industrialization through his fiction. I agree that that’s clearly one of his themes.

Are there Tolkien-themed botanical gardens or have there been Tolkien-themed plant shows? I thought of this after noticing a Facebook discussion among plant growers who are sick and tired of all the big corpse flower (Amorphophallus titanium) shows. I was  surprised to find that they also hate  the Dale Chihuly shows in botanical gardens. Chihuly is viewed with some disdain among art critics, but I thought he still maintained his popularity in other sectors. (I don’t hate him, but I do find his stuff kind of monotonous.) Anyway, a Tolkien display might be an interesting alternatives for public gardens looking for crowd-pleasing shows.

And this book would be fun to have at hand the next time I reread Lord of the Rings.

Previous articleThe Pin Oak vs. Statues of Dead White Men
Next articleRobert Frost Needed Better Neighbors
Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. Elizabeth, I love that idea! I’ve read and re-read the books countless times, and now I think I’ll have to get my hands on this book as well. Thanks for sharing!

Comments are closed.