In many ways, we’re often encouraged to get out of our houses and our heads and immerse ourselves in nature. Hiking, biking, walking: they’re all on the many lists of things that can help improve your mental health. Stop and smell the roses, we say to each other. Put your phone down and touch some grass! Take a mental health walk and see a sunset!
Various studies back up this age-old advice, too. This 2014 literature review found links between short-term alleviation of depression symptoms in people 16-25 and time spent outdoors; this 2010 study found an improvement in self-esteem and mood when engaging in “green exercise,” meaning exercise done in nature; and this 2017 study found improved mental health in neighborhoods with more vegetation cover. And, even if you’re not in it for the benefits, it’s just nice sometimes to take a stroll among the trees.
That is, unless the trees have gone a bit wrong. Dun, dun, dun. That’s right, what about when nature goes bad and the very refuge you seek turns against you? Sinister trees, killer flowers, a vine with a mind of its own: it’s all fair game in these eight plant-based horror novels to make you think twice before your next leisurely stroll through the woods!
The Root Witch by Debra Castaneda
Sandra Molina is a producer at a TV station when she sends her crew into a spiraling investigation of an urban legend called The Root Witch, with ties to a forest in Utah. When the crew starts to see shadows and then go missing one by one, her decision-making is called into question. Through video footage and journal entries, the story of The Root Witch and what really happened in the trees is revealed. This novelette is a quick, scary read for those who love to think about what lurks in the heart of the forest.
The Vegetarian by Han Kang
Less killer-plants and more horror focused on the eating of plants; The Vegetarian follows a young woman as she starts to have nightmares about meat. As a result, she decides to become a vegetarian despite her husband and family’s protests. She starts to live more “plant-like,” spending more time in the sun, in the forest, and in the rain. Her spiral into this life and the reactions of those around her bring her further and further from the woman she was.
Laguardia by Nnedi Okorafor, Tana Ford, and James Devlin
In a world where aliens have come to Earth and take residence in Nigeria where the technologically and economically prosper, the U.S. bans travel from Africa. When a pregnant Nigerian American doctor smuggles an alien plant through LaGuardia airport, she joins a community of other Nigerians and other shapeshifting aliens. Dealing with discrimination and travel bans, the birth of her child threatens to uproot everything.
The Ruins by Scott Smith
On vacation in sunny Mexico, two couples enjoy their time in the sun. When they meet a German tourist who says his brother disappeared in search of Mayan ruins, they decide to set out on a journey to find him. But something lurks in the jungle they trek through, stranding them on a hilltop with limited resources and no way out.
The Red Tree by Caitlín R. Kiernan
After the death of her girlfriend, Sarah, a writer suffering from writer’s block moves to a rural old house. While exploring her new residence, she finds the manuscript of the house’s previous occupant all about a local folklore about the oak tree in her yard. The tree takes root, urging her to write about it and infiltrating her dreams. Her grip of reality retreats as the tree fills her every thought.
Growing Things and Other Stories by Paul Tremblay
This short story collection is full of Tremblay’s signature scares. The titular short story, “Growing Things” is about two sisters living in a world of destruction. A plant is taking over the world, destroying cities and leaving ruins in its wake. Other stories in the collection play off the choose-your-own-adventure genre, depict disappearing getaway drivers, and have the sadness-tinged horror Tremblay is so good at.
The Beauty by Aliya Whiteley
After the women in society contract a strange illness and die, mushrooms sprout on their graves. The mushrooms develop into sentient beings who shake up the community’s gender roles and identity. Told by the resident storyteller Nate, the overtaking of the society is creeping and a beautiful tale.
Roots of Evil: Beyond the Secret Life of Plants Edited by Carlos Cassaba
This whole collection is full of killer plants of all kinds. Haunted forests, jungles full of man-eating plants, and botanists obsessed with researching flesh-eating flowers fill the pages of this short story collection. If you’re in the mood for a variety of quick, scary growing things, this is a great option.