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That Poor Plant

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Agent Pink, the Mayincatec forerunner to Agent Orange.

"Hey, check out the palm tree! It only gets sick when I cook brunch! How's that for a coincidence, Professor? With all your precious science!"
Bender, Futurama

Need to show how the Phlebotinum du Jour affects living things, but the character isn't evil enough to test it on an animal? Well, plants are fair game. Therefore, plants tend to get mistreated a lot in fiction.

Are you a scientist who wants to test your new mystery formula? Just take an eyedropper and drop a few drops in the soil of your philodendron. If it's a miracle cure, the plant will go from wilting to flourishing — and possibly to horribly mutated. If it's deadly poison, as it so often is, it will go from healthy and green to a sad pile of ashen leaves and shriveled vines. (Do note: for added drama, the plant will often wait to transform until you're sure that nothing is going to happen and leave the lab disappointed. Then it will probably turn into a monster and start wreaking havoc.)

Do you suspect that your friend is infected with The Virus or some sort of radioactivity? Do you want to make sure it's still safe to go near him? Have him go near a potted ficus. If your friend is dangerous, the tree will instantly shrivel and die, all its leaves falling off at once.

Is your friend a Lethal Chef, but you don't want to hurt their feelings? Do you just want to make sure their cooking is safe to eat? When they're not looking, dump the foul food or pour the dreadful drink into the dracaena's pot. The plant will probably curl its leaves and die at once from the toxic substance meant to be comestible. Good thing you didn't consume it.

Incidentally, none of these tests would work so well in real life. If you're paying attention at all, you may have noticed that humans and plants are very different living things. They have different needs and different ways of meeting them, and a lot of things harmful to us are harmless to them (or vice versa). Anyway, houseplants are often the most resistant to neglect, disease and dangerous substances. And we haven't even touched how long it could take for the substance in question to be absorbed into the soil, and then absorbed from the soil into the plant, and then for the substance to actually start killing the plant. Like Hollywood Acid and Poison Is Corrosive, this trope provides a visible (if unrealistic) clue that a substance is dangerous.

Vegetation is also apparently an excellent barometer for magical evilness. Has your character gained incredible nature-based powers and is Friend to All Living Things? Flowers and plants will sprout around her Fertile Feet. Meanwhile, the Enemy to All Living Things is likely to be a Walking Wasteland surrounded by dead trees and withered grass.

Despite what the name implies, has nothing to do with either That Poor Cat or That Poor Car. Also please refrain from adding examples where plants are harmed by situations other than those described above.

A Sister Trope to Ill-Fated Flowerbed. Contrast Soulful Plant Story, where bad things happening to plants are taken very seriously, and Weeding Out Imperfections, where flowers and weeds are used as metaphors for "desirable" and "undesirable" people.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In the Fullmetal Alchemist (2003) two-part episode, "The Other Brothers Elric", Fletcher and Russell save Xenotime from the impending flood of red water by having all the trees in the surrounding area soak it up like a giant tree drain. All the trees are (apparently) then destroyed by the brothers.
  • The Legend of Snow White: Queen Chrystal convinces Jack he's actually evil and tasks him with delivering a bouquet of poisoned flowers to Snow White. When he can't go through with it and drops the bouquet on the forest floor, all plant life within a few feet of it withers and dies.
  • In One Piece, just following the Little Garden arc, we get a small preview of Crocodile's powers when he expresses his annoyance with Mr. 3 by using a Touch of Death to make a rose wither into dust.
  • In one episode of Slayers, Xellos made a vegetable stew so noxious, the ingredients were screaming in pain... Taking part in a cooking competition though, he thought the whole idea was to kill the competition.

    Comic Books 
  • In Hawkeye Annual #1, Madame Masque attempts to drug Kate. Kate takes a fake sip of the wine and then dumps it in a pot plant. The result is this trope.
  • The Smurfs: Papa Smurf once had an experiment with a daisy gone awry, turning it into a Smurf-eating plant.
  • In the Spirou and Fantasio story QRN on Bretzelburg, the king of Bretzelburg, at Spirou's urging, gets rid of the drug his treacherous minister used to keep him docile. He briefly wonders if he should be following Spirou's advice before noticing the plant shrivelling and concludes Spirou is probably right.
  • In the Tintin story Flight 714, when Captain Haddock is given a glass of health tonic by an eccentric millionaire, he dumps it onto a Ficus. The plant immediately starts dropping its leaves.

    Comic Strips 
  • Dilbert featured an arc where Wally's potted plant becomes the waste receptacle for his coffee dregs. Dilbert later suggests to him that he switch to decaf; the next panel shows a giant tree growing out of the office building.

    Fan Works 
  • Awful Lot Of Coffee In Equestria has an unusual example of this trope. Princess Luna once had a plastic desk cactus. That she managed to kill. Somehow.
  • In I Won't Say L relates that he once managed to kill a cactus by forgetting to water it.
  • In MsMatchmaker Harry spits a mouthful of Dobby's pea soup into a potted plant. It instantly wilts.
  • In Super Therapy!, the potted plant inside the doctor's office tends to go through some abuse over the therapy sessions. Notably, Storm's ends up with it fried by lightning.

    Film — Animation 
  • The tiny little Death Omen pine tree from The Nightmare Before Christmas. It eventually bursts into flames, causing Sally to seriously question whether Jack's great Christmas takeover plan is such a good idea.
  • Used hilariously in The Emperor's New Groove
    • Yzma got the idea to poison Kuzco when she, in full Evil Plan gloat-mode, accidentally knocked a vial of poison onto a plant.
    • A cactus ends up turning into a topiary llama after Yzma pours some (what she thought was) poison-laced drink into it, only to find out after it transforms Kuzco that it was actually "extract of llama".
  • In Shrek 2 - Shrek sneezes the potion that'll make him look attractive onto a mushroom, and as the group walks away it turns into a pretty rose. Those fortunate fungi.
  • Madame Mim's first use of magic in Disney's The Sword in the Stone is to wither a flower on her window sill.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Blood Brothers (1973): When Ma, the eldest brother, decides to turn on his sworn siblings, he declares that NOTHING will get in his way to achieving power... while randomly kicking over an innocent potted plant that happens to be in his way.
  • Just Heroes: During the climatic shootout, a mook gets pumped with bullets and just happens to fall into a tall potted plant behind him, which conveniently snaps into half for some reason.
  • Abbott and Costello's movie The Naughty Nineties has a hilarious scene where the Big Bad and Costello's character Sebastian are put alone together in a private room in a theater, where she proceeds to poison his drink. They then do a Poisoned Chalice Switcheroo back and forth until he gets confused and opts to toss the drink in the fern next to him. Sebastian watches the fern die very slowly, and then wipes his glass very thoroughly on his tux.
  • Scary Movie 2 has Shorty watering his marijuana plants with bong water. The plant later grows, becomes sentient, and starts smoking Shorty like he was a blunt.
  • The Three Stooges often did this. One variant also used curling wallpaper when they threw some strong drink over their shoulders at a wall. Subverted once when squeezing a hanky full of tears into the pot caused a flower to grow.
  • The Umbrella Coup has a cactus at the florist shop which dies instantly when Grégoire stabs his umbrella with the poisoned tip in its flowerpot.

  • Aversion: In The Belgariad, Garion's recently-discovered cousin Adara asks for him to show his magic powers by making a bush bloom again. Garion refuses since it's winter and the bush would die. He then creates a new flower for her out of a twig and grass. The flower is decidedly lopsided, puny, and... well, it's lopsided, let's leave it at that. Give Garion a break; it's his first go at live transmutation. It's nicknamed Adara's Rose, because Garion really, really loves his beautiful Algarian cousin, (or so Ce'Nedra thinks), and it does have a nice smell. And oh, did we mention it's a sovereign specific, cures any poisoning? Imagine wearing anti-poison as a perfume (Sadi wonders if it works as antivenin as well; we never do get to find out). One of the funnier scenes in the Malloreon plays out during this arc, especially when Belgarath tries to get the plant to grow.
  • Averted in Busman's Honeymoon. When Lord Peter Wimsey is offered some homemade parsnip wine, his wife Harriet, realizing the distress of a world-class oenophile, suggests he dump it in a nearby potted plant. However, Lord Peter goes ahead and drinks it (not without a shudder) after observing that the plant already appears unwell.
  • In a single case, Butler Parker suspected an opponent from giving him a drink laced with sleeping poison. He poured it onto a flower instead. Later in the scene, he noticed the flower having half-closed blossoms and drooping leaves and blossoms, as if it was very tired.
  • Inverted in Dragon Bones: One of the fields around castle Hurog is spoiled by salt, and almost nothing grows there. That was an accident, or possibly Gaia's Revenge. However, when they have to figure out what to do with the dragon bones, which they know are a magical artifact that would grant more power than would be healthy to a human sorcerer, if ingested, they grind them into powder and use that on the field. After that, the plants there grow very well.
  • Crowley and his plants in Good Omens. They're the healthiest houseplants in London, and the most terrified. He occasionally kills the one who looks weakest, to show the others what happens if they don't try hard enough.
  • In "Rappaccini's Daughter", the title character is so poisonous that ordinary plants wilt when she touches them.
  • In Thief of Time, one of the History Monks teaches novices to be wisely-cautious about the procrastinators by setting an apple on a table and accelerating time around it. Within seconds, it's rotted away and left behind a circle of frail, stunted tree seedlings that sprout from the resulting lump of mold.
  • In one of the Star Wars: Young Jedi Knights novels Tenel Ka accidentally orders a Gargle Blaster and dumps it in a potted plant, then apologizes when it gets annoyed.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The old 1950s The Adventures of Superman series had the Radioactivity example. Superman gets exposed to Radiation and goes into self-imposed exile. He's lonely and wants to be around others, so he put his hand out over a potted plant. But he's so radioactive and deadly, the plant dies on the spot.
  • In the Bottom live show, Richie dumps a cup of tea that has been laced with goat poison onto a nearby plant. The plant gives off smoke and wilts instantly.
  • Charmed (1998): When Phoebe is pregnant with Cole's baby The Seer claims that she's giving Phoebe a tonic to boost her strength when it's actually a potion that will corrupt Phoebe and turn her to evil. Phoebe gets suspicious and dumps the tonic in a nearby plant. The next time The Seer arrives with a vial of the "tonic" Phoebe notices that the plant is now very dead and starts demanding the truth.
  • Inverted with Chuck and the plant that grows when abused with radioactive water.
  • Corner Gas: Oscar looks for plant food for Emma's tomato garden and instead finds an old case of empty stubby beer bottles. When the liquor/insurance store won't accept them, he decides to brew his own beer. The results are so disgusting he ends up dumping it out on Emma's tomato plants. At the end of the episode, Emma finds the tomatoes are now giant.
  • The trope is invoked in an episode of Drake & Josh: At a gathering to carpool to Drake's concert, Josh hands out homemade lime drinks to the guests. One of the guests, Josh's boss Helen, immediately proclaims that the drink "tastes like mucus" and briskly dumps it into a houseplant. She then loudly predicts that the plant "will be dead by nightfall".
  • Farscape: The attitude behind the assumption that plants are fair game for mistreatment is discussed by Crichton (a human) and Zhaan (a humanoid plant.)
    Zhaan: I cannot condone what his people did, but for all this unparalleled flora to flourish, it may not be entirely unreasonable to—
    John: To murder sentient beings in order to save a few stinking plants?
    Zhaan: How animal-centric of you, John.
    John: Sorry, Zhaan. I forgot. You're a—
    Zhaan: I am a "stinking plant".
  • In the pilot of Friends Rachel makes coffee. Chandler and Joey think it tastes awful, but they politely pour it into the potted plant on the table rather than upset her. In the extended cut of the episode Ross, who didn't drink it, uses the coffee as an example of how she can do "anything". Chandler immediately hides the now very dead plant.
  • Hercules: The Legendary Journeys had a poisonous drink poured into a plant in "As Darkness Falls". As is usual, the plant instantly wilted.
  • On Heroes, Mr. Linderman demonstrates his healing power on a wilted orchid.
  • Intentionally used on Hogan's Heroes. Colonel Hogan wants to keep convincing Klink that a killer is after him, so he laces the kommandant's tea with what's probably a powerful herbicide and serves it to him—then, at the last moment, notes that the tea might be poisonous and pours it into Klink's office plant instead. The plant dies dramatically and Klink believes Hogan's story.
  • On iCarly: Carly devises a homemade pesticide for her science project and tests it on Spencer's healthy tomato plant. Said plant smokes profusely and withers instantly. Carly exasperatedly deems herself (and later Spencer) as "The Plant Murderer".
  • Lois & Clark - there's an episode in which Mr. Mxyzptlk causes a burp in time, forcing Clark to relive a day again and again during which everyone becomes more depressed and pessimistic. Each time it happens the Christmas tree in the Daily Planet office dwindles until it's just a stalk with a bauble on it.
  • Midsomer Murders: In "Death in Disguise", Barnaby is given a cup of acorn coffee, which he surreptitiously tips into a plant. When he returns on a different day and is offered another cup, he declines, then comments to Troy that the plant looks a bit peaky.
  • Murdoch Mysteries:
    • In "The Tesla Effect", Crabtree sees a dead fern at the crime scene and makes a joke about its "death by bachelor", then he touches it and comments on its unusual warmth. A trail of similar dead plant life outdoors leads Murdoch and Tesla to the place where a microwave ray cannon was stored and tested.
    • In "Murdoch and the Cloud of Doom", Murdoch is ordered to investigate a film of a man killing a dog with a lethal gas. Investigation of the site where the film was shot turns up a large area with dead plants; Murdoch and his consulting expert discuss how powerful the gas appears to be based on the size of the affected area.
  • British Dom Com One Foot in the Grave had its eternally unlucky protagonist poison an entire garden when he inadvertently used cocaine instead of fertiliser.
  • On Supernatural, in "Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things" the undead girl caused plants around her to die.
  • In an episode of The Thundermans Max performs an experiment on the class pet, a venus flytrap, and it mutates into an intelligent plant that tries to take over the whole house.
  • In The Twilight Zone (1959) episode "One For The Angels", Mr. Death proves his identity by touching a plant and causing it to wilt and die.

    Video Games 
  • Ace Attorney: It's implied that Ema did this to Phoenix Wright's plant. Though seeing as it is still around in the 4th game, and is implied to be the same plant, it survives.
  • GLaDOS makes reference to this in Portal 2.
    "You can't test plants, you know. We tried."

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 
  • In the pilot for Batman Beyond, we only see the full effects of the illegal nerve gas on a plant. Human and cattle subjects are also displayed, but what happens is only implied to be horrible through villain reaction shots.
  • In Batman: The Brave and the Bold Lethal Chef Wildcat makes a blenderful of Tiger Tonic. He gulps his down contentedly, but Batman pours his into a potted plant. The plant loses all its leaves save one.
  • In the beginning of the Betty Boop cartoon "Minnie the Moocher", a flower in a vase politely tries to convince Betty to eat her parent's cooking. When she doesn't, the flower takes a bite of it himself and immediately loses his petals and collapses.
  • The Comic Strip: In Tiger Sharks, a plant wilts after making contact with some toxic waste (that has the appearance of solid gold and induces Rapid Aging in anyone touching it).
  • Subverted and inverted in an episode of Darkwing Duck. Bushroot is out to make himself another plant friend. He comes up with a mutating formula that seems to work. Then it gets on Gosalyn, mutating her into a slime creature. While looking for a cure, Darkwing tested the formula on a plant and learned that the mutation had four stages: intelligence, ravenous appetite, insanity... and finally, liquification. Fortunately, Darkwing announces that he did find a cure... although how he figured out that cure from testing on plants is never explained. The cure is a hot bath with lots of soap.
  • Doug has the eponymous protagonist in one episode going through imminent stage fright when he is about to perform his ventriloquism in front of the audience for a school talent show, which causes him to soak up his shirt with his own perspiration. He gets his shirt replaced with a clean, new one by Porkshop, who wrings the sweat out of the shirt into a potted plant, which wilts instantly.
  • The Fairly OddParents! episode "Playdate of Doom" has Cosmo dispose of beets into a potted plant and killing it by doing so.
  • Family Guy Crosses the Line Twice when Meg dumps a glass of drugged punch in a plotted plant. The plant droops as if unconscious, then another potted plant hops over to hump it while it's out.
  • In Futurama whenever Bender tries to cook the Planet Express crew dumps the food into a plant, lampshaded by Bender when he asks "How come the plant only gets sick when I cook?".
  • Inspector Gadget: MAD assassins try to bump off Gadget by poisoning the hors d'oeuvres at a party he's attending. Brain gets rid of them by dumping them in a nearby potted plant, which promptly wilts and dies.
  • In "Hand in Hand" on Kick Buttowski, Kendall, disguised as Gunther, releases a burst of flatulence that not only creates a great wind, it causes several plants to blacken and wilt instantly.
  • Private Snafu:
    • In "Gas", the flowers in the meadow where Snafu is lazing wither and die as the sentient cloud of Deadly Gas touches down.
    • In "Private Snafu vs. Malaria Mike", Mike misses Snafu and bites a tree, which then develops the symptoms of malaria and keels over.
  • The Silly Symphonies short "Flowers and Trees" is made of this. Everybody now: "Awwww...".
  • When the Sumerian Century Flower blooms in The Simpsons, its smell sends the crowd around it fleeing, and kills all the nearby plants; except one, which Homer runs back to stomp.
  • In SWAT Kats: The Radical Squadron, the Origins Episode of Dr. Viper had Dr. N. Zyme tested a new growth formula on a wilting rose. It began thriving, and he declared the experiment a success. Then his assistant Elrod Purvis tried to steal the formula, got doused with it, and died. The next day, the flower mutated, foreshadowing Purvis's imminent resurrection as Dr. Viper.
  • Done for laughs in Teen Titans (2003) by Beast Boy when the bathroom was occupied.
  • The T.U.F.F. Puppy episode "Mind Trap" has a plant wilt after Dudley disposes of one of Kitty's mackerel cookies into it.
  • VeggieTales has fallen into this, using non-talking vegetables for various things, such as a non-speaking pumpkin with a scrawled on face to test a fish-slapper.
  • One S2 episode of Winx Club had Bloom experimenting with her recently discovered healing powers, using some plants as test subjects. However, since the book she had gotten from the library had been planted there by an evil spy, it caused the spells she used to cause one of the plants to burst into fire, and another to turn into a monster. This trope is also inverted when in S4 Ogron, the leader of the Wizards of the Black Circle steals the gift of life which could be used to bring a dead person back to life and uses it on a dead flower to prevent the Winx from using it to revive Nabu, who had just sacrificed himself to save the Earth fairies from the Dark Abyss that the Wizards of the Black Circle had created.

    Real Life 
  • In his fanzine article "Cuisine Unauthentique", David Langford claims that, when nobody was prepared to eat Judith Hanna's attempt at Welsh Rarebit, they poured the mixture into a tree stump that insisted on putting up shoots every year, and it died shortly thereafter.
  • Ironically, some sensitive houseplants can actually be badly damaged by minerals such as chlorine and chloramine that are added to tap water to make it safer for humans. (Such treatment is designed to eliminate disease-bearing bacteria from the water supply, that is, for human diseases such as cholera that likely wouldn't bother plants at all.) Houseplant enthusiasts generally recommend using distilled or filtered water on their plants for this reason.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): What Measure Is A Non Animal



In "Stop Drinking Boring Coffee!", one guy demonstrates Bones Coffee's superiority to more mediocre brands by giving the other coffee to a plant, killing it instantly.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / ThatPoorPlant

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