If mankind perished utterly;
And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,
Would scarcely know that we were gone."
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. What happens when we're not there to maintain our dominance? Nature returns, often with devastating consequences for the abandoned remnants of 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 and return it as close as possible to what it would be if people had never been there at all.
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.
- 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 overrun with nature.
- 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.
- In X1999, a vision of a possible future Tokyo shows the city abandoned and the buildings overgrown with vegetation.
- Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters: A scene has the exploration team encountering the ruins of several buildings that, thanks to Godzilla's Hostile Terraforming, had become giant hedges and this allowed them to keep their shape even after several thousand years.
- In the Beach Episode of DARLING in the FRANXX, 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.
- In 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.
- Dr. Stone's first episode shows all of mankind being turned to stone by some weird green aura that encompasses the planet. Everyone is still fully conscious, but unable to do anything as a montage shows the passage of time as nature reclaims civilization. 3700 years pass by, showing vegetation retaking buildings until buildings and bridges begin to rust away and crumble until there's no remaining traces of any civilization save for petrified humans dotting the landscapes. The main characters are freed, but the big city they were in is now a huge forest.
- This is the point of George Carlin's "The Planet is Fine" bit.
- In 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.
- In 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.
- Once the villain that threatened to clearcut FernGully: The Last Rainforest 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.
- Though once entirely mechanized, Treasure 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.
- The epilogue scene of A Troll in Central Park has Stanley (the titular Troll) doing this to the whole of New York with his Green Thumb powers.
- 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.
- Resident Evil: Extinction shows the city of Las Vegas has been reclaimed by the desert after the Zombie Apocalypse picked it clean.
- In 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.
- 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.
- During Logan's Run from 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.
- Jurassic World shows that this has happened to the buildings from the original park.
- In Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom it's shown to be happening to the newer park as well.
- In 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.
- A small-scale example happens in Avengers: Endgame. 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.
- In 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.
- Mowgli from The Jungle Book decides that a human village that is home to a Miles Gloriosus needs to be eradicated. Mowgli's strategy: "Let the jungle in." He starts a rumor that the tastiest greens are found in the village's crop fields. Herbivores come to graze, wrecking the crops; then predators come to hunt the herbivores, endangering the populace. Finally, as the villagers finally flee, Hathi the Elephant and his sons demolish the huts. Then 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.
- In Heir to the Empire, Luke returns to Yodas home on Dagobah five years after the events of Return of the Jedi in search of anything that might help him train Leia, only to find this trope in effect.
But at last they arrived...to 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 hed 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- In the Talking Heads song "(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.
- Beautiful Decline by Abney Park 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.
- In 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.
- 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.
- Call of Duty's Overgrown multiplayer map is in the throes of this process.
- In 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.
- In 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.
- 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 99% 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 Elly 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 Elly to come up and touch its face.
- 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.
- The setting of Horizon Zero Dawn 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.
- 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 Last Bastion" animated short for Overwatch 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.
- Final Fantasy VII ends with Red XIII's puppies looking over what appears to be Midgar choked by grass or vines.
- Pretty much all outdoors locations in NieR: Automata 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.
- The European Dead Zone in Destiny 2 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.
- Viridi from Kid Icarus: Uprising 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.
- The ending of Sam & Max Hit the Road 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.
- Commented on by Nigel in The Lost Crown: A Ghost-Hunting Adventure, when he examines a weed-encroached pile of broken stonework and statuary in a neglected churchyard.
- 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.
- Kirby and the Forgotten Land: The main setting of the game is set in a world different from Planet Popstar, in which the world consists of mainly abandoned cities, a shopping mall, and even a amusement park.
- 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."
- 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.
- 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.
- The second and third seasons of Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous which take place between the events of Jurassic World and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom shows both The original Jurassic park ruins but also shows this beginning to happen with the second park as the dinosaurs reclaim the island.
- The Love, Death & Robots episode "Three Robots". Humanity has gone extinct due to an Unspecified Apocalypse, and as the titular three robots explore a city where humans once lived, they come across buildings that are slowly being taken over by vegetation.
- 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.