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The Force is Strong with These Plants: Star Wars-Inspired Flora

May 3, 2023

By Alex Henderson, Curator of Living Collections, Royal Botanical Gardens

I was seven years old when the first Star Wars film came out and it was an event that changed my life. It appears I wasn’t the only one as the film has gone on to influence many others of my generation, not least for those (like myself) who sought careers in horticulture, botany, and taxonomy. Its no surprise, as a result, that themes of popular culture tend to seep into the realm of plant sciences. My first experience of this occurred several years ago when in Hendrie Park. I was casually strolling through Oak Allée (pretending I was doing less than 12 parsecs on the Kessel Run) when I had the delightful experience of discovering a cultivar of Pulmonaria called ‘Dark Vader’. This naturally piqued my interest in Star Wars related plant names and have since discovered several of these from the George Lucas multiplex multiverse.

delicate clusters of purple bell-shaped flowers at the ends of the stems
Pulmonaria ‘Dark Vader’, Hendrie Park
close up delicate clusters of purple bell-shaped flowers at the ends of the stems
Pulmonaria ‘Dark Vader’, Hendrie Park

Begonia darthvaderiana, discovered in 2014 on the Island of Borneo has leaves so dark they appear to be black and so is named after the Dark Lord of the Sith. Sadly, the force is not strong with this species as it is a target for poachers and is illegally smuggled (not on the Millennium Falcon) as plant collectors pay small fortunes to illegally acquire this plant.

Alternate and asymmetric leaves, oblong-oval in shape, have a very dark violet or intense red to almost black color, with a striking yellowish-silver border.
Begonia darthvaderiana. Photo © Begonias&más

Within the genus Primula, gardeners can acquire the cultivars ‘Star Wars’, ‘Palpatine’ and ‘Darth Vader’. One can only presume these breeders have been channelling the dark side of the force in their hybridizing efforts for the Galactic Empire.

Primula auricula 'Star Wars'. Photo © Barnhaven Nursery
Primula auricula 'Star Wars'. Photo © Barnhaven Nursery
Dark red double auricula
Primula auricula 'Darth Vader'. Photo © Barnhaven Nursery
Dark red purple double auricula.
Primula auricula 'Palpatine'. Photo © Barnhaven Nursery

In contrast, Iris ‘Princess Leia’ is an exotic looking iris with purple and lime blooms that grows best in a bog. This seems perfect for the swamp world of Dagaobah, home of Grand Master Yoda, a loyal ally of the princess and a leader of the rebel alliance. Other plants to add to the list include Hemerocallis ‘Han Solo’, Iris ‘Millennium Falcon’ and Magnolia ‘Star Wars’. As one may expect, the list goes on ad infinitum especially when expanded to include insects, animals and other organisms requiring taxonomic classification.

Iris 'Princess Leia'. Photo © The American Iris Society
Iris 'Princess Leia'. Photo © The American Iris Society

Whilst we may not be living a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away its certainly fun on Star Wars Day to use the Force and inject a little pop culture into planning your garden, selecting plants with super cool names, that don’t need a protocol droid to decipher. You can even enter the Matrix and hybridize multiverses with plants from other popular culture threads such as Star Trek or the Marvel Universe. Such names are increasingly populating the realm of plant nomenclature and so this Star Wars Day, Live Long and Prosper…erm…May the Fourth be with you!

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