When you're reading a book, watching a movie or TV show, listening to a podcast or whatever, odds are that the story is going to be very emotional (usually sad, bittersweet, romantic, or a combination) when it focuses on a single plant, usually a tree or flower, but any plant will do.
The emotions could be coming from a number of possible places: maybe the plant is very special to someone and so it's heavily associated with them, which could make for drama if they die or are a Love Interest or are in danger (especially if they're a dead or endangered love interest). Maybe there is a theme about how the area surrounding the plant has changed over time, but the plant was always there. Maybe the plant was planted in honour of someone who died or someone is buried near it. Or maybe the plant itself is in danger of being destroyed, usually by someone who wants to get it out of the way to build something or sell it. The latter types of plot generally have a moral about environmentalism or anti-materialism. Any kind of Soulful Plant Story might also have a moral about remembering to notice nature or "the little things". Tropes Are Tools- when done well, Soulful Plant Stories that have a moral make us think, but when done badly, they can seem like preachy guilt-trips.
There could be several reasons why this trope is so common. It could have something to do with the fact that many people have an appreciation for plants and/or are worried about the environment. It might also partly have something to do with the symbolic meanings some cultures have assigned to certain plants (for instance, roses symbolise love in several cultures). In the case of trees, it might also have to do with the fact that trees live longer than humans, which can amaze and intimidate people. Seeds have also sometimes symbolised beginnings and roots have symbolised history (i.e. "my roots" can mean "my ancestors and things related to them").
Occasionally, the plant may be sentient, and could be a Wise Tree, but often it's just an ordinary plant. The plant may be given a title like "the Friendship Tree" or whatever and is occasionally talked about as though it were a person. Soulful Plant Stories tend to have a Bittersweet Ending or even a full-fledged Downer Ending, but many have happy endings despite all the drama.
This trope could also be downplayed by having the story be only a bit emotional or have an emotional subplot related to a plant, or having the plant only play a small role in the emotional story. Contrast That Poor Plant, which involves something bad happening to a plant but it isn't treated as a big deal.
- Donwplayed in Beauty and the Beast. While not overly emotional, it's still a love story with a theme about an enchanted rose that Belle and Beast need to fall in love before the last petal of which falls.
- It's only a minute long, but there's a scene in The Brave Little Toaster that's very powerful. A hedge surrounds a tree, and only a single beam of sunlight can penetrate to the ground. A single flower grows in that beam. There are hundreds of flowers on the other side of the hedge, but our victim can't "see" or sense them. Then Toaster arrives. His reflective surface creates another flower. The real one is shocked and curious at first, exploring this new entity. Toaster tries to explain that it's just a reflection and he's not a flower. The flower doesn't listen, and embraces what he thinks is a new friend. Toaster pulls away in surprise, but then peeks through the hedge back at the flower. The flower is now wilting, surely dying of despair. It had hope for a few precious seconds only to have it ripped away. Less than a minute, minimal dialogue, in an animated children's movie. Incidentally, a lot of the filmmakers of this thing went on to form Pixar.
- Epic is about keeping a pod (that was given to the protagonist by a dying queen, no less) safe because it's the only way to stop evil creatures from rotting the entire forest. The Leaf Men also have an idiom "many leaves, one tree" meaning they're separate, but one group.
- WALLE is basically a rom-com with robots and one major theme in the film is Wall-E's plant that's one of the few left on a polluted future Earth.
- "Attalea Princeps" by Vsevolod Garshin is centered around a single palm tree attempting to break out of its greenhouse. Other plants in the greenhouse do have speaking parts though. It ends with the tree breaking the roof only to find itself outside with winter approaching. Then the humans decide to cut it down.
- Downplayed for a scene in Badjelly The Witch about a police officer who got turned into a tree by the titular witch. He's very sad about it, but it's largely still played as a joke.
- In The Bible, there's a rare case where the plant is seen semi-unfavourably. The first humans, Adam and Eve, were informed never to eat the fruit of a certain tree, but the Devil, disguised as a snake, convinced Eve to eat some, which led to her and Adam knowing the difference between good and evil (including knowing about sex.)
- The Fall Of Freddie The Leaf focuses on a tree and its sentient leaves, especially one named Freddie, who is preparing to fall, which is compared to death.
- The Giving Tree is about a tree who "gives" a boy parts of itself, until it's just a stump and he's a frail old man.
- The book I Love Guinea Pigs by Dick King-Smith is mainly just a book about guinea pig facts, but it slips into this at the end when the author mentions that he has a tree in his garden and he likes to imagine that his two guinea pigs "lie peacefully" under it.
- The Lorax becomes this towards the end: the Once-ler cuts down the last Truffula Tree and then he realises how much damage he's done. He then gives the last seed away to the boy in hopes that he could make things better and bring the species back.
- Downplayed in No New Baby, which has a single scene like this, where the girl's grandmother is comparing the baby dying from either a miscarriage or a stillbirth to a bud on a plant dying before it can become a flower.
- The Overstory: Given that all of the short stories during the first part of the book relate somehow to trees, this shows up quite a fair bit. The first story tells the Generational Saga of a family along with the life of the chestnut on their farm, the Sole Survivor of blight which sees many people be born and die, and ends with the new generation's protagonist being himself the Sole Survivor of his family. The second story has the death of the mulberry planted in the garden of the family it focuses on coincide with the father's suicide. While the next section of the book contains several simultaneous plot lines, one of these plots, involving two of the main characters spending a year atop a single tree as part of an environmentalist protest, only for the tree to be cut down anyway, also qualifies.
- Scumble has a subplot involving a tree that is revealed to have once been a woman whose savvy (i.e. superpower) was making trees grow, but then she got sick and couldn't control her powers, so she turned into a tree.
- In Wintersmith, witch Tiffany Aching evokes the power of the Summer Lady. In the middle of a bitter unseasonal winter. She notes her imperfectly-understood powers have awakened an acorn and caused it to germinate. She feels vaguely guilty about this. She considers, then buries the acorn in a pile of leaf-mulch hoping this will do and give it a chance. A little later, the far older witch Granny Weatherwax shows up. Granny spots the green shoot in the middle of a blanket of snow. She then sculpts a protective wall of snow around it to shield it from the winter. Two witches doing what they can to give a green shoot of life its best fighting chance in a bitter winter are symbolic of the themes of the novel.
- Alongside his usual Generational Saga of local human families, Edward Rutherfurd's The Forest follows the life of a tree across the centuries, from a seedling to a huge forest giant, and finally to the lives of its only two offspring to escape being eaten by deer. Overall, its story is no less subject to the whims of chance and currents of history than the human characters'.
- Captain Kangaroo had one segment that focused upon one flower, allegedly a petunia, that spent its time with a steady trickle of water leaking from its eyes, as it sang: "I'm A Lonely Little Petunia In An Onion Patch."
- Sesame Street:
- The show has a skit about a flower growing set to sad music. It's been dubbed the "sad flower" video.
- One song is called "Please Keep Off the Grass" explaining what 'Keep Off the Grass' signs are for, and it's sung from the perspective of a blade of grass with a slow singing voice who doesn't want to be stepped on.
- A cartoon skit involves an acorn growing into a tree while sentimental music plays.
- Downplayed in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Inner Light". Picard is put into a coma and gets given a telepathic message from a probe that makes him live an entire life in his head on a planet that was destroyed a long time ago. There are a few scenes where the villagers on said planet talk about a tree that symbolises hope.
- Star Trek: Voyager has an in-universe example: an alien species called the Talaxians believe that when they die, they go to a place called the Great Forest and one particular tree, the Guiding Tree, is where they meet with all the dead people who loved them.
- Mi Árbol y Yo (My Tree and Me), a song by Mexican singer Alberto Cortez. He sings about how he and his parents took care of a little tree and the many experiences he had while both he and the tree grew up.
- The Vocaloid song HELLO PLANET, by sasakure.uk, follows Miku's journey through a post-apocalyptic world as she keeps a flower pot, the only keepsake she has of a lost companion, safe. The music video ends with Miku dying after her arduous journey, but the plant sprouts successfully.
- Percy Bysshe Shelly's "The Sensitive Plant" describes the eponymous plant's home throughout various times and seasonal changes, right up until its tender dies and her garden falls into disrepair. Maybe. It also says that death is an illusion of human perception and everything is still alive. So it's difficult to say what happened, if indeed anything happened and it wasn't just one big metaphor.
For the Sensitive Plant has no bright flower;Radiance and odour are not its dower;It loves, even like Love, its deep heart is full,It desires what it has not, the Beautiful!
- In A Raisin in the Sun, Mama Younger loves to garden, but doesn't have much space to do so. As such, her most prized possession is a small, single plant growing in a flowerpot. She treats it as well as one of her own children, speaks about it lovingly, and is highly protective of it. As with other examples on this list, the plant—a tiny, fragile sign of hope and promise in a dark world—is symbolic of the Younger family's own precarious hopes and dreams. It's telling that the final moment of the play shows Mama rushing into the family's old apartment for the last time, grabbing the plant, and heading out to an uncertain future with her children and grandchild.
- Sondheim's Pacific Overtures has an interesting take on this trope in its Act One finale, "Someone in a Tree." As the title of the song suggests, an Old Man reminisces about how he watched the first-ever interaction between the Japanese and American explorers by hiding in a tree outside of the specially-built treaty house; his younger self, a Boy, appears onstage and recreates the event. Since the government purged all records of the event (to the point of burning down the treaty house itself), the Boy, the Old Man, and their tree are among the only witnesses to a major historical event—and in that, they become history, as it was only their presence that allows the story to go on.
- In Dragon Age: Origins, the Warden's party goes into the Brecilian Forest and encounters the Ancient Oak, a sentient tree which speaks only in rhyme. It gives them its history, then adds that its most prized possession is its child, an acorn, which has been taken by the local mad hermit. The player must decide whether to kill the hermit to take the acorn, kill the oak to satisfy the hermit, or trade with the hermit for the acorn in order to resolve the conflict without bloodshed.
- Jimmy and the Pulsating Mass has a scene about Jimmy empathizing with the Happy Little Sunflower, imagining what it's like to be a sunflower, where he is in a field, and is picked by a girl, who keeps him in a jar or something, while he slowly wilts and is about to be eaten by the girl's pet hamster.
- The opening to A Very Long Rope to the Top of the Sky goes:
- Bunkichi and Mitsuko, the elderly owners of the Bookworm bookshop in Persona 3, lost their son in a tragic car accident. A persimmon tree was planted at Gekkoukan High as a memorial; however, the school is planning to renovate, and part of their plans involve destroying the tree to make way for a new wing. The Hierophant S. Link partly revolves around them learning about this, and their efforts to prevent this from happening.
- The author of Springhole created a whole fictional universe called "Soulmettle". In said universe, the page about the origin of elves talks about a tree that developed a spirit from a combination of the minds of children and a magical crystal that was under it. The emotions come from a villain who cuts down the tree to get at the crystal.
- On this list of dark comics, one of them has a clock full of cut-down trees with one still standing, but a saw (attached to the big hand) coming towards it.
- In the Arthur episode "The Cherry Tree", Muffy's favourite cherry tree gets cut down to make room for a bouncy castle.
- The Care Bears (1980s) episode "The Lost Gift", in which Grams Bear tells a story of a tree with regenerating apples, which everyone resolves to only take one per day of. When Grams Bear in the story takes three (two for baby Hugs and Tugs and one for herself), the other bears misunderstand believe that everyone is taking multiple apples now and they have to take them while they can. Their Greed ends up exhausting the tree's regenerating powers and killing it.
- Parodied in a cutaway scene in an episode of Family Guy. Peter Griffin manifests as an apple in an idyllic orchard. Apple-Peter extols at length about how wonderful life is and how great it is to be green and growing. He does not at first spot the maggot/worm on the branch edging its way towards him, but, full of the delights of summer, welcomes the worm and invites him to join in with the thrill of life. The maggot seems to snigger, then leaps on Apple-Peter and despite his protests, starts boring his way in. Eventually, a rather fatter maggot leaves, as Apple-Peter, traumatised, screams about having been violated. Somehow, the squick and the rape-analogy comes over as worrying, touching, and funny.
- In the Milly Molly episode "Grandpa's Oak Tree", an old couple who were friends with the titular girls die and some people want to cut down their oak tree to make way for a road.
- One episode of Courage the Cowardly Dog features a magical tree growing on the Bagges' property. The tree is sentient and capable of granting wishes, which delights Muriel and Courage—but Eustace quickly becomes envious of the plant, as he thinks it's taking his place as the breadwinner of the family. When he inadvertently wishes for Muriel to get a "bigger head" to agree with him, Muriel's head literally grows so huge that she can't walk. The tree then tells Courage that the only way to save Muriel is letting Eustace cut him down, which breaks the dog's heart. In the end, the tree does die, but gives up its flowers to make a cure to help Muriel—and Eustace gets his just deserts when he ends up with a gigantic head as punishment.