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Seedgirls look like ordinary girls but they have a big green bulb on their head. This bulb holds a powder they use to speed and enhance plant growth. My question is how the bulb gets there in the first place.

Here's why:

  1. The bulb could be a part of their body, but that would mean they are essentially humanoid plants, and this would be almost impossible to evolve.

  2. The bulb could be a symbiotic plant, but then why does the bulb rest atop the head. This is still a vulnerable position and the bulb could easily get whacked, sliced, or otherwise hit as the seedgirl walks through her forest home. And, of course, why did the plant develop a symbiotic relationship with the seedgirl in the first place?

  3. The bulb could be a parasitic plant, controlling the humanoid through tendrils that penetrate through the skull, using special spores to expand its neural network (and by extension, its power). However, I really don't like this possibility and it doesn't quite fit with my vision.

So, to restate my problem, these symbiotic bulbs rest atop the heads of their hosts, a race of forest-dwelling women. How did they get there?

To make things even clearer, how would a bulb end up living in harmony with a human atop their head?

The ideal answer will:

  1. Explain what benefits a plant would have for a forest-dwelling woman and vice versa. Perhaps the plant contributes energy and nutrients in exchange for mobility and protection.

  2. Explain how the relationship could have happened. This seems pretty necessary, since nothing quite like this has happened on Earth, unless you count algae and fungi growing in wet sloth fur to be similar.

  3. Explain why the bulb is on the hosts head, despite the drawbacks of being positioned there. Is there any advantages of it being here as opposed to somewhere else. What would be a better place? How would this change the appearance of the Seedgirl?

Attention All Answerers: I have not selected one answer here because I cannot pick just one of these many excellent answers. Everyone, please accept my gratitude and appreciation, as I will be using parts of each answer.

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  • $\begingroup$ BTW, is the bulb just a bulb? How does it get energy? Or reproduce? $\endgroup$ Dec 16, 2021 at 17:09
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    $\begingroup$ Why this bulb has to be a plant? Can't it just be a part of animal body? $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Dec 16, 2021 at 17:20
  • $\begingroup$ @IchthysKing: bulbs are part of plants-wait! Oh, sorry, I confused bulbs with buds. It's technically a bud, though it most resembles a bulb. My mistake. $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Dec 17, 2021 at 0:56
  • $\begingroup$ @Alexander: I was not aware of any animal that grows green bulbs as part of their body. Sarcasm aside, I hope I did not offend, it does have to be a plant. Otherwise, well, the whole concept more or less falls apart. Thank you for asking a great question! $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Dec 17, 2021 at 0:58

7 Answers 7

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It's not just Symbiosis: It's Culture

The bulb could be part of some regular epiphyte/parasite, perhaps with some adaptations for living on animals. The universal presence on the seedgirls' heads could then be explained as some sort of cultural practice

This cultural practice would be easy to explain as a practical decision; If their food source is dependent on plants (which it will be), then the growth-speeding powder of the bulbs will be invaluable to them. And putting the bulbs on your head is a rather efficient way to make sure you always have some powder available

The top of the head specifically is also a pretty good place for the plant. It is balanced on top of the skull, it is easy for the seedgirl to reach, and if it's parasitic then the important organs/muscles should be well protected

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    $\begingroup$ Plus it is a rocking look! And if you pay attention you will note that the bulbs are not all the same. Individual seedgirls put a lot of efforts into the appearance of the bulb. If you notice what she did with her bulb and complement her, it will certainly be appreciated! $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Dec 17, 2021 at 0:10
  • $\begingroup$ Very nice, I like your cultural perspective! Always nice to have a thoughtful answer to my stranger questions. $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Dec 17, 2021 at 0:59
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    $\begingroup$ “important organs/muscles should be well protected” Is the brain not an important organ $\endgroup$
    – Topcode
    Dec 17, 2021 at 2:27
  • $\begingroup$ @Topcode Yes, and it is well protected by the skull $\endgroup$ Dec 17, 2021 at 7:24
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Repurposed Echo Chamber in Skull.

The benefits to each partner are obvious. The plant becomes mobile and less likely to be eaten. The girl gets access to magic powder that they use for growing more plants to eat.

By the way the bulb is tough like a cabbage and so resistant to all sort of knocking around.

enter image description here

Some people like to bounce a football on their head, but would you risk bouncing a cabbage? Thought not.

The bulb is attached to the top of the head, to a chamber in the skull that was originally used to generate loud calls. See the picture of a male elephant seal:

enter image description here

This gives the roots something to cling to, without going inside the skull. For a more extreme example of an skull echo chamber here is a Parasaurolophus:

enter image description here

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for your answer! I especially like your points on bulb durability and the potential of echo chambers providing a place for the bulbs to grow into! $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Dec 17, 2021 at 1:00
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How do the pods develop?

The bulb is semi parasitic.

Plants would drop their sticky seed pods on animals. The sticky part of the pod would then send roots or rhizomes into the animal to draw the nutrients develop the seeds/spores. Conversely, the seed pod is just the fruiting body of a rhizome infection.

Either way, it was a way to spread seeds/spores farther using something else's energy.

The pods would, over time, develop numbing agents and would restrict their draw on their host. The numbing agent would both prevent the host from curling up, waiting to die and from rubbing the bulb off to get rid of the pain/itch. That combined with lowering the rate of draw would allow the pod to remain active longer and allow the animal to get farther away from the plant which would allow the seeds to spread even farther. Eventually, the pods would operate at a slow enough speed that they were a permanent part of the host.

Also, since the pod is getting "free" energy. Why not also create some kind of fertilizer to help the seeds grow. The fact that this fertilizer also helps other plants, is just a side effect.

Why do only the "pod girls" have it?

Animals operate better without a drain on their system. Therefor they would develop an immune response to the rhizomes and fight it off like an infection.

At some later time, some humanoids colonize the island/continent. They have no immune response developed. The pods are already not harmful. And they find that having the pods makes food more abundant. The pods could then become a symbol of plenty, possibly with religious overtones.

Why are the pods on the heads?

Well, the head is out of the way. It is less likely to get damaged by the host's own movements. If the pod is simply the fruiting body, it may have gotten brushed off of animals in other places and had to draw more energy from the host to re-form it. In the course of lessening the burden on the host, the pods eventually began developing in areas that were less and less likely to get damaged.

Is it congenital or induced?

Your choice.

The rhizomes could infect the fetus and only produce the fruit when the child is of sufficient size to support the drain.

Or, for luck or religious observation, the humanoids could purposely touch their heads to the parent plant to be bestowed the blessing where all could see it. After a while, it could lose the original meaning and just be a thing that some young girls do when they reach a certain age.

Why only girls?

Well, if it isn't passed on from birth, the answer is cultural choice. If it is passed on from birth then there is the option that males lack an enzyme or have an immune response to it.

If there are only girls of this humanoid race, I leave it up to you as to how that happened.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for your perspective! I appreciate your thoughts on bulb development and function, and I will be using them for inspiration! $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Dec 17, 2021 at 1:26
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Why bald men need sunscreen

First, an obvious point: your plant wants to sit on the Seedgirls' heads because it's the position where it gets the most sunlight. Pretty much all plants display phototropism, preferential growth toward the light. So the plant doesn't actually need to attach itself to the girls' heads at all; it could start growing anywhere on their body, and slowly but surely move up towards the light until reaches the crown of the head and it can move no further. Only at this point does the plant body (the big green bulb) really develop, so it looks like they only "grow" there, but in fact they can be found in faint tendrils anywhere along the body of young girls. Maybe the plants respond to the hormones that girls produce in puberty and move a lot more, or establish themselves better, when these hormones are released, explaining why the bulbs are only found in girls. You could also imagine cultures where heads are kept covered, and for these Seedgirls the bulbs would grow in a different location (presumably kept bare for this purpose).

But this still doesn't tell us what they are doing there. Look, if I'm a plant and I can get my food from the Sun, why would I want to be carried around by a random Seedgirl when I could just sit on a nice sunny rock?

Why do we have a head anyway?

The bilateral body plan has been a stonking success among animals. One of the reasons is that it creates a natural axis with a "front end". This front end contains the sense organs and is also the driver for the direction of movement, a stupendously effective arrangement to a) find what you want and b) go get it. Our plant is hoping to capitalise on this because it has the ability "sense" something and needs a method to move towards it (quickly).

The symbiotic agreement therefore is this: the plant provides a new, non-human sense (electromagnetic fields? The distant call of plant pheromones? Magic? The future? It's up to you) which is useful to the human - for example, it may help the Seedgirl find hidden oases in a hostile environment. In return, the Seedgirl (to a degree of voluntary choice that is for you to decide) follows the bulb's directions to the place that this sense points to. Maybe she is in complete control and their goals are simply well aligned, so what she chooses to do is usually beneficial for the plant as well. Maybe the bulb releases enough psychoactive molecules that the Seedgirl is pretty much unable to resist the plant's commands. Or maybe it's somewhere in the middle, with the Seedgirl experiencing a lovely sense of joy and fulfillment whenever she does what the plant desires, but still free to reject it (this might make for a good story hook? Conflict and all).

As to how this all started, I'm going to make a storytelling rather than worldbuilding suggestion that you don't necessarily have to explain it. Often, alien/fantasy biology works best with a show-don't-tell attitude, just treating the fact as relatively mundane in your setting. Everybody knows that Seedgirls have bulbs on their head! Some say it's a gift from a God, answering a prayer when humans were at the brink of starvation and extinction. Some say it's a disease, that the Seedgirls are not fully human because of it. Some say it's just a symbiotic plant relationship. You're allowed to not explain.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks and welcome to the site! This is a very well-written answer, and I do appreciate your reminder that I don't have to explain things! $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Dec 17, 2021 at 15:44
  • $\begingroup$ Totallly agree about not explaining - in the story there is no need for the humanoid culture to even have a science based reason for the head bulbs to exist. And based on our history, if they don't have a real understanding of how things came to be, they'll make one up anyway. $\endgroup$
    – traktor
    Dec 17, 2021 at 22:46
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It is a symbiosis originated by ritual (probably religious) in the seedgirls' culture. They aren't born with it, but they are born with the ability to connect it to themselves. So they aren't quite exactly human, either.

Suppose there was a humanoid race of animals that could absorb and sustain plant matter, and they were intelligent enough to observe that this plant caused accelerated growth in other plants. Suppose they knew they were capable of absorbing plant material. It's fairly reasonable that they would consider this plant holy (especially if they were generally religiously inclined) and their holy people would be chosen to bond with this plant and spread it for the good of their society. And of course, it would then also make sense for them to live where the plant grows natively in the ground, and to propagate it, and protect the areas where it can thrive.

As for how, see sea slugs. There are already actual animals that can absorb plant matter, feed it from their cells, and absorb the energy it produces. Some species can actually live without eating any more than their first few mouthfuls of algae. I doubt that a bulb that would fit on a person's head would provide enough chlorophyll for this, but it could make their need for food much less. And again, if this bulb has the power to hasten growth in other plants, it wouldn't need to be directly beneficial to the host organism to be a beneficial arrangement overall.

Why the head? The head has a high supply of blood, but unlike other places with a high supply of blood (hands, feet) a bulb would not be in the way on the head. It doesn't interfere with clothing, tools, or other things.

Perhaps the graft is done when the bulb and the girl are both young and small, and they grow together. Maybe they don't all take and you end up with pariahs who couldn't graft a bulb.

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    $\begingroup$ Very interesting take, thank you for your fascinating perspective! I was aware of how sea slugs may incorporate chloroplasts, but I never considered them as an answer to my question! $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Dec 17, 2021 at 1:25
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Actually the "bulb" is not a dormant bulb as such but the bulbous base of a parasitic plant where it stores chemicals and nutrients it produces. Some plant species tend to trail leafy tendrils that the humanoids find aesthetically pleasing.

The plant originates from spores or seeds embedded in the scalp - possibly ground in by head-baskets women used to carry goods and heavy loads before the plants arrived. To survive, the plants do need access to sunlight, so the top of the head makes perfect sense.

The plant is symbiotic by way of the chemicals it introduces into the body of its host - sufficiently beneficial to the host that they would prefer to both accept the plant on their head and keep it there. There are a range of types of effects and benefits to choose from such as elevated stamina and other mental and physical benefits. Toxic hallucinogenic poisoning is probably not a good reason. Providing the host with essential fatty acids the host can't produce might be. From the plant's perspective, the chemicals it produces originally evolved to prevent stinging sensations its presence would otherwise cause and evolution took it further.

In return the plant receives trace nutrients it has lost or never had the ability to produce from the humanoid scalp, and has evolved to produce sufficient rootlets to maintain stability on the head without endangering the host. Plant favoring the chemistry of premenopausal women could account for why children and men rarely if ever get infected - or it could be something else entirely such as cultural choice.

The plant can be destroyed by chemicals such as acidic fruits or vinegar or harsh skin peeling agents - and are destroyed if they establish themselves in an unsightly or unwanted manner.

The powder originates from the plant shedding the "bark" or outer layer of its base, which has magical properties when used horticulturally. Women may also cut the plant to harvest crystalized sap from the plant as well.

How well this fits into your concepts and the cultural practices of the humanoid society is all part of the story!

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  • $\begingroup$ Very interesting, thanks for your creative and thoughtful answer! $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Dec 17, 2021 at 2:29
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Evolution

You ask why as symbiotic plant might decide to evolve to survive on a persons head? Evolution. Firstly, if it attached it self almost anywhere else on a person, before they realize the benefits, you might just chop of the limb or would be more open to risky surgery to have it removed. It would also be more likely to get in the way if its on a arm or leg and thus get knocked off during daily life.

But attached to someones head? No one's chopping your head off (unless they really don't like the plant), surgery to remove it would be much more dangerous and likely to kill the host so people may not attempt it (at least after the first few failures).

While it is vulnerable on someones head, I would argue that most people will do almost anything to avoid being hit in the head. Someone throwing a punch at my head? I'm either putting some other part of my body in the way or moving away from getting hit, I'm very much not however going try to "take the hit" with my head.

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