Botanicult Fiction: Botany and the Werewolfery Connection
By Alex Henderson, Curator of Living Collections, Royal Botanical Gardens.
Werewolf of London is a 1935 horror film produced by Universal Studios as part of their Classic Monsters series of films and could be considered one of the more obscure releases. It is however, packed to the brim with botanical bugaboo and begins with fictional world-famous botanist Doctor Wilfred Glendon who journeys to Tibet in search of the rare phosphorescent wolf plant, Mariphasa lupine lumina. Whilst botanizing he is attacked and bitten by a werewolf and so has to return to London with his rare acquisition. As the story unfolds it becomes clear that the bite has infected Glendon who is slowly developing symptoms of lycanthropy.
Mariphasa lupine lumina is a fictional plant which is extremely rare, found only in the mountains of Tibet. Because it blooms only under a full moon Glendon is one of only a small number of botanists aware of its existence. So strange is this plant that when growing it in his glasshouse laboratory he invents a special lighting system that mimics moonlight to force the plant to flower. He does so in complete secrecy from other botanists. During a botanical tea party however, Glendon is approached by the strange Doctor Yogami who wishes to speak of the flower. Glendon denies its existence whereby Yogami (who himself is a werewolf) reveals that the phosphorescent wolf plant is actually a temporary herbal antidote to ‘werewolfery’ as blossoms from the plant can be used to prevent transformations. At full moon Glendon’s lycanthropy worsens and as he begins to transform, he swiftly heads towards his laboratory to harvest a Mariphasa bloom. Upon arrival he desperately learns that Doctor Yogami has been there before him and removed all the flowers. With no antidote, and in wolf form, (the special effects for the transformation are unbelievable for the time) Glendon runs amok through the streets of London and locations such as London Zoo before eventually being tracked down and shot by officers of Scotland Yard. With his dying breath Glendon reverts to human form securing the safety of the city and its streets for Londoners once more.
Although one of MGM’s more obscure Classic Monster installments Werewolf of London has inspired several other pop culture hits including Warren Zevon‘s 1978 song “Werewolves of London“; Paul Roland‘s 1980 album and single “The Werewolf of London”, the 1981 film An American Werewolf in London, the 1997 sequel An American Werewolf in Paris and the 1987 video game Werewolves of London. I first discovered this botanical werewolfery on Universal Studios, Lon Chaney JR. The Wolf Man, Legacy Collection which features The Wolf Man, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, She-Wolf of London and Werewolf of London. This film is also a winner for adding the term ‘werewolfery’ to my own personal lexicon of pop culture jive talk!
Botanicult Fiction is an affectionate review of plants in pop culture viewed through the lens of plant nerds and curated for your reading or viewing pleasure during this challenging time of self isolation