Follow TV Tropes


Reclaimed by Nature

Go To

"Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree
If mankind perished utterly;
And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,
Would scarcely know that we were gone."
— "There Will Come Soft Rains", Sara Teasdalenote 

For our entire history, humans have been taking advantage of our environment and manipulating it to suit our needs. We've built massive cities all over our planet, beating back the forces of nature at every turn. Forests and jungles are cleared to make way for lofty monuments to our accomplishments. What happens when we're not there to maintain our dominance? Nature returns in many forms, often with devastating consequences for whatever we left behind.

This trope comes into play when man or whatever sentient dominant species was around in the first place, has abandoned a location (be it a house, a city, or even a planet) and the natural ravages of plants, weather, animals, and time itself conspire to ruin whatever that society built. Buildings and bridges are toppled, roots break through roads, artifacts rot and vegetation shrouds whatever is left. The place is returned to as close as possible to what it would be if people had never been there at all.

The reasons for the inhabitants leaving varies. In stories set 20 Minutes into the Future, perhaps there was a Zombie Apocalypse or ecological catastrophe, and now it's an overgrown dystopian wasteland. In science fiction, perhaps aliens invaded the planet or the Terraforming technology is malfunctioning. In fantasy, a Wicked Witch may have cast a spell on the place. In a Wild West story, maybe the Gold Rush ended and now it's a Ghost Town that is being taken back by the desert sand.

Compare to New Eden, where society can benefit and start anew after nature has erased what they created countless ages ago. Contrast Ragnarök Proofing, where society builds something that will withstand the test of time. Could overlap with Ruins of the Modern Age, Gaia's Vengeance and Humanity's Wake. A Green Thumb with an Eco-Terrorist bent may deliberately invoke this trope with their powers.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 

  • Attack on Titan: When the Scouting Corps finally make it back to Shiganshina, the buildings have begun to grow vines and moss over their surfaces.
  • Castle in the Sky:
    • The people of Laputa abandoned their floating castles and continents a long time ago, so the magic technology the characters find upon visiting the titular castle in the sky is rusted, covered in soil, and overrun with wild plants.
    • Even the civilization on land looks like it's recovering from something terrible, such as the grass around Pazu's hometown being riddled with craters.
  • DARLING in the FRANXX: In the Beach Episode, the kids wander off from the beach and discover an old city long abandoned. The streets are covered in overgrown vegetation, and when they inspect an old mansion, they find a tree growing through the middle of an old piano.
  • Doraemon: Nobita and the Green Giant Legend have Doraemon and friends uncovering the plot from a race of hostile Plant Aliens whose planet is covered entirely by vegetation, and intends to drop a green nuke on earth to convert our world's surface into one like theirs, with the humans and animals subjected to transflormation. By the ending, the aliens actually succeeds in dropping the nuke in Tokyo and turns the city into a plant-covered wasteland, with vines and the like all over the Tokyo Tower. However, thanks to Doraemon's Stop Watch being prematurely activated earlier in the adventure, it turns out Doraemon and friends can still reverse the nuke's effects and save the world.
  • Dr. STONE: The story begins when all of mankind is turned to stone by a green aura that encompasses the planet. As the decades, centuries and millennia pass, wildlife slowly returns to cities, vegetation overgrows abandoned buildings, concrete structures crumble and steel skyscrapers rust and collapse. After 3700 years, protagonist Senku Ishigami awakens in a Stone World devoid of technology.
  • Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters: A scene has the exploration team encountering the ruins of several buildings that, thanks to Godzilla's Hostile Terraforming, have become giant hedges, which allowed them to keep their shape even after several thousand years.
  • X1999: A vision of a possible future Tokyo shows the city abandoned and the buildings overgrown with vegetation.

  • This is the point of George Carlin's "The Planet is Fine" bit. He complains about the "Save the Earth" framing of environmentalism, because the Earth will long survive anything humanity can throw at it.
    Carlin: The planet will be here for a long, long, long time after we're gone and it will heal itself, it will cleanse itself 'cause that's what it does. It's a self-correcting system. The air and the water will recover, the earth will be renewed, and if it's true that plastic is not degradable, well, the planet will simply incorporate plastic into a new paradigm: the Earth plus Plastic.

    Comic Books 
  • Project Superpowers: Manhattan becomes overrun by plant life as a result of the Green Lama rebuilding Shangra-La there. A similar thing happens after he and the other Superpowers invade Washington, with large trees sprouting around the White House and the Pentagon.
  • Runaways: The team's Malibu house becomes buried in rose vines after Klara loses control of her powers in an accident involving a drone crash. What's left of the house ends up being destroyed shortly afterwards when the military invades the house to try and salvage the drone.

    Films — Animation 
  • FernGully: The Last Rainforest: Once the villain that threatened to clearcut the forest has been defeated, both he and his hijacked machine, the Leveler, get shrouded in flora. With the help of magic fairies, plants galore sprout around, into and through the Giant Mecha, breaking it with expanding stalks and tendrils. The whole conversion takes mere minutes.
  • Treasure Planet: Though once entirely mechanized, the hidden planet has become overgrown with bizarre flora that covers its entire surface. Only B.E.N.'s home lends any clue that advanced science ever existed there. A hatchway in the floor reveals "miles and miles of machinery that run through the entire course of the inside of this planet", all in working condition despite centuries of disuse.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • After Earth takes place on Earth 1000 years after Humanity had to evacuate due to environmental mismanagement. It has since turned into a Death World where nature is doing just fine on its own.
  • Avengers: Endgame: A small-scale example happens. When Scott is walking through the suburbs of San Francisco, houses and sections of sidewalk are shown being covered with overgrowth from house plants and trees because there was nobody there to maintain it.
  • Damnation Alley: Las Vegas has been reclaimed by the desert (except for a few buildings such as the Circus Circus Casino) in the handful of years following World War III.
  • Forbidden Planet: Absolutely nothing remains of the buildings of the Krell in the surface of the planet (underground being another story), now reclaimed by desert and forest after it was razed clean in a single night courtesy of their monsters of the Id.
  • Godzilla (2014): The ruins of Janjira fifteen years after the Distant Prologue's events have suffered this. This is actually a relevant plot point, as not only is vegetation overwhelming the buildings and murky water flooding in, but the presence of wild dogs in the ruins makes Joe realize that the ruins are not really irradiated at all.
  • Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019): Due to the Titans' terraforming effect, it's revealed that this has happened at a rapid rate to the ruins of Las Vegas and San Francisco where Godzilla and the MUTOs rampaged during the 2014 film. It can be safely presumed it'll probably also happen in Boston and perhaps other destroyed cities after this film's ending.
  • I Am Legend showcases a New York City that is heavily reclaimed by wildlife and flora.
  • Jurassic World shows that the buildings from the original park are being overrun by vegetation. In Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom it's shown to be happening to the newer park as well (at least, until the volcano destroys it).
  • King Kong (2005) has a number of ancient stone ruins in the interior of Skull Island, long since reclaimed by vines, weeds, moss, and plants. Much of the island’s broken terrain, when looked at more closely, turns out to largely consist of ancient streets and structures long since overgrown with vegetation. The only structure relatively free of such growth is the gigantic, ancient wall that protects the surviving natives, and the ancient tombs that now serve as their refuge.
  • Logan's Run: After fleeing the domed city, Logan 5 and Jennifer 7 wander into a landscape shaped like Washington, D.C., but heavily overgrown with ferns, ivy and kudzu. Only the Capitol dome pokes above the greenery. There, Logan and Jenny encounter a dotty old man living in the Senate chamber, which is rife with moss and lichens.
  • Resident Evil: Extinction shows the city of Las Vegas has been reclaimed by the desert after the Zombie Apocalypse picked it clean.

  • Belgariad: Polgara revisits the site of the former city of Vo Wacune and laments that the trees have overrun the site "so soon" — the trees in question being full-grown redwoods.
  • Heir to the Empire : Luke returns to Yoda's home on Dagobah five years after the events of Star Wars: Episode VI — Return of the Jedi in search of anything that might help him train Leia, only to find that, after half a decade of neglect in a wild swamp, erosion and plant life have almost completely destroyed the ruins.
    But at last they find the house effectively gone.
    For a long minute, Luke just stood there, gazing at the spot where the house had been, a freshly renewed sense of loss struggling against the embarrassing realization that he’d been a fool. Growing up on Tatooine, where an abandoned structure could last for half a century or more, it had somehow never occurred to him to consider what would happen to that same structure after five years in a swamp.
  • The Jungle Book: Mowgli decides that a human village that is home to a Miles Gloriosus needs to be eradicated and leads the animals into destroying it, the jungle reduces the village to muddy heaps in a month, and by the end of the rains it is gone.
  • The Wump World: The peaceful, grass-eating wumps are driven underground when an alien race called the Pollutians arrives and begins building all over the planet. Eventually, they smog it up so much they have to leave... But it turns out they haven't completely destroyed the greenery, and in time it begins to grow back over the cities.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Aftermath: The pilot episode theorizes what would happen after humanity suddenly vanishes. Most human structures take only a century or two to decay. The only thing indicated to last many millions of years is the moon lander left behind on the airless rock.
  • Life After People is all about theorizing about the effects of nature on all of mankind's greatest creations if everyone in the world were suddenly no longer there to protect them.
  • Station Eleven: Twenty years after a plague wiped out the vast majority of humanity, nature has started creeping into abandoned buildings. In one scene in the first episode, Jeevan and Kirsten walk by a tidy house before flash-forwards to twenty years later show it covered in vegetation.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Arsenal Of Freedom" has the Enterprise visit the very green planet Minos to investigate the disappearance of the starship Drake. Scans indicate no life forms anywhere on Minos, but an away team finds signs of an advanced civilization there, all long overgrown by native flora. The planetary defense system, still running in demonstration mode, is the only active thing on that world that isn't vegetation.

  • Abney Park: Beautiful Decline is all about the Earth's inevitable return to its natural state post-humanity's extinction.
    A pleasant patina pulls apart a holy copper shrine
    Like gently creeping mossy claws, scarring all divine
    All the things you think you value, including the gift of life
    Will slowly, gently fall apart, until the world is right.
  • Talking Heads: In "(Nothing But) Flowers", a man longs for the shopping malls, fast-food restaurants, cars and other accoutrements of civilization that disappeared when vegetation gradually overtook them and returned humanity to a New Eden state.

  • We Are All Pokémon Trainers: During the course of Team Earthbound, Nova, and other's adventures in PMD-B, a post-apocalyptic version of the Alternate Timeline where humans were rendered virtually extinct by being turned into Pokémon, they find that many of the old cities have gotten a new coating of green. Azalea for instance was completely swallowed by Ilex Forest.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Magic: The Gathering: This is a fairly common trick for Green magic, due to its focus on nature and growths. Numerous Green spells and instants are themed around natural growth reclaiming article structures and artifacts and nature's eventual ability to wear down and overtake anything built within it. Notable examples include the often-reprinted card Naturalize, which can destroy any artifact or enchantment in play and symbolizes the byproducts of civilization being reabsorbed into the natural environment, or Creeping Mold, based on the idea of natural growth overtaking artificial structures.
    Garruk Wildspeaker: When your cities and trinkets crumble, only nature will remain.

    Video Games 
  • Destiny 2: The European Dead Zone is named as such because a shard of the Traveler fell nearby and causes strange phenomena on top of the centuries of war that has driven humanity away from the area. The entire area is a mix of decayed vehicles, salt mines, dilapidated buildings, and other structures that have been overtaken by grass, moss, and other greenery.
  • DOOM Eternal's second campaign expansion, The Ancient Gods: Part 1, utilises this trope as the dominant theme of its second level, aptly named "Reclaimed Earth"; an abandoned, futuristic city becoming enveloped in vegetation and other greenery in the aftermath of the demonic invasion in the base game.
  • Fallout 76: Vault 94 is seemingly inaccessible because the inhabitants left after only 1 year after the bombs fell. After 25 years, sturdy looking trees have grown over the vault door.
  • Final Fantasy VII ends with Red XIII's puppies looking over what appears to be Midgar choked by grass or vines.
  • Fortnite Battle Royale saw the area known as Dusty Depot destroyed by a meteor at the end of season 3, which then became Dusty Divot at the start of season 4. At the start of season 5, a fully grown forest has reclaimed the impact crater.
  • Horizon Zero Dawn: The setting has quite a bit of it, along with a bit of Ragnarök Proofing for a select few bunkers. Although the natural environment is still contrasted with the eerily organic looking machines who now dominate the Earth.
  • Kid Icarus: Uprising: Viridi weaponizes this trope with her Reset Bombs — massive seeds that can regrow an entire forest in minutes. After one is dropped on a human settlement, all that's left are a few chunks of buildings being held up by giant vines and roots.
  • Kirby and the Forgotten Land: The game is set in a world different from Planet Popstar, which consists of mainly abandoned cities, a shopping mall, and an amusement park that have become covered by lush plant life.
  • The Last of Us takes this trope and runs with it for the purpose of Scenery Porn. The premise of the series is that more than 60% of humanity has been killed off by a deadly fungus, so there aren't enough survivors to simply maintain any upkeep. One example comes when Joel and Ellie are exploring through a ruined building and they come across a giraffe who escaped from the zoo. The Giraffe is just casually eating leaves from a nearby tree growing in the building, and allows Ellie to come up and touch its face.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: Calamity Ganon's nigh-apocalyptic attack on Hyrule 100 years prior to the game happened while Hyrule already in a state of decay. In the present, Link finds towers, shrines, weapons, and other ruins abandoned, overrun by monsters or animals, and taken over by nature, with civilization surviving in little pockets.
  • The Lost Crown: A Ghost-Hunting Adventure: Commented on by Nigel when he examines a weed-encroached pile of broken stonework and statuary in a neglected churchyard.
  • Mega Man X5: The space colony Eurasia crashes into Earth, leading to lots of casualties. Fast forward to Mega Man Zero 4, where it is revealed that, due to Eurasia's environmental conditioning system still being active, the ground zero has turned into a very lush green place, dubbed as Area Zero. The plot for said game revolves around protecting this area from your enemies.
  • NieR: Automata: Most outdoors locations are former urban areas being slowly reclaimed by nature, some overgrown by plants, some simply covered by the desert sands in the thousands of years since humanity's extinction.
  • Overwatch: "The Last Bastion" animated short shows that Bastion himself started off like this. After the Omnic war, he was shut down in the middle of a forest, was soon overtaken by lichen and moss until a bird landed in front of his sensor and woke him up. One of his game skins features the moss and dirt clumps still on his body.
  • Sam & Max Hit the Road: The ending sees the western half of North America suddenly covered with pine trees thanks to Bigfoot magic. The actual ramifications of a forest just instantly sprouting up would be apocalyptic if it wasn't all Played for Laughs.
  • Tyler: Model 005 is set in a house that's been abandoned for so long that plants have been growing all throughout it.
  • Unreal Tournament III: This is the basis of the Titan Pack map DM-EdenInc. Once the funds for the research facility were over, the specimens under study grew up and overtook most of the building:
    "This industrial complex was once a hydroponic research facility focused on saving rare and endangered species. When their grant ran out, funds dried up and all work was suspended. Months later, demo crews moved in to pave the path for a new highway and found that many of the research seedlings had taken root and continued to grow."

  • Cyber Scrapyard: Long ago, this world was densely populated and technologically advanced. But after the mysterious catastrophe, most of humanity died, and most of the buildings and constructions were destroyed. To the beginning of the main events of the comics, devastated cities are absorbed by mutated flora and fauna.
  • Stand Still, Stay Silent: Since the bulk of the story is about a handful of explorers checking out what has become of areas that were abandoned during a ninety-year-old Zombie Apocalypse, plenty of old human structures taken over by plants and animals show up.

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • This is commonly referred to as ecological succession. Although it's more quickly evident in abandoned farms and other places that already have soil (secondary succession), it can happen on concrete and asphalt too (primary succession) through the same processes that allow life to colonize bare rock. Numerous abandoned structures can attest to this.
  • The evacuation zones for Chernobyl and Fukushima have been reclaimed by nature. In Chernobyl's case, scientific studies of various flora and fauna have shown that they adapted to the radiation (various birds have increased levels of antioxidants to counter the free radicals), and are thriving just fine.