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My question is:

  • Could a macroscopic (e.g. visible) plant grow on a living human, provided that the human is completely immobilized?
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    $\begingroup$ We talking about plant life existing today or fictional plant life that could exist? $\endgroup$ – Neil Jun 20 '17 at 13:22
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    $\begingroup$ You used the tag torture. As far as I know plants grow relatively slow. The only torture method I heard of was putting people on bambus, which is supposed to grow really fast, but I am not sure. How would a plant growing on a living human be torture? I mean, is the plant supposed to use the human as nutrition and use up all the available resources in a matter of hours/days? $\endgroup$ – Sec SE - clear Monica's name Jun 20 '17 at 13:24
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    $\begingroup$ Yes. They can and do. $\endgroup$ – Bellerophon Jun 20 '17 at 13:44
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    $\begingroup$ MedwedianPresident, I suggest you remove the torture tag and replace it with reality based. $\endgroup$ – Bellerophon Jun 20 '17 at 15:00
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    $\begingroup$ I had a friend that got cut up on some coral while surfing. Years later she had trouble and a bump in her leg. They went in and found a piece of coral, and it had been growing inside her leg. It's not a plant specifically, but depending on what you're going for, it could also work. $\endgroup$ – coblr Jun 20 '17 at 20:16
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First off let me say yuck!, that is a series of Google searches I can never take back.

But as to your question, apparently plants often germinate inside the human body, specifically inside the lungs, as the warm moist environment is good for sprouting a seed. There are multiple reports of this happening with a variety of plants, this was widely covered when in 2010 a man in Massachusetts had a pea plant removed from his lungs, and in 2009 a Russian man had a small tree removed. Also found a case of a girl in china with a dandelion growth in her ear.

There is however not a consensus on this issue, as a group of chest physician published an article claiming the news stories about large plant growth are likely hoaxes, since extended plant growth would require light, which is lacking inside the lungs and other body cavities.

So, it seems very plausible to assume seeds could sprout inside the human body and that given a restrained subject, the plant could exit the body cavity and receive some sunlight and continue growing.

It should be noted that all the subjects mentioned in the news stories had their plant growths identified by doctors as they were suffering pain and discomfort from the growths, so it could likely work as a very slow torture method.

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    $\begingroup$ You just won Google Sepuku. Would you like to play again? $\endgroup$ – Draco18s Jun 20 '17 at 14:20
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    $\begingroup$ Those chest physicians must have never seen my fifth-grade science fair exhibit $\endgroup$ – HotelCalifornia Jun 20 '17 at 17:37
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    $\begingroup$ Seeds will sprout and some will get surprisingly large (3 inches or more) before needing light. Those sprouts you can sometimes get on your salad, sandwich, or pho are grown that way. $\endgroup$ – Dave Jun 20 '17 at 23:35
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    $\begingroup$ Just a rule of thumb: a seed will need enough energy to grow to the size it can photosynthesize at, before it needs to photosynthesize. No leaf = it can grow in the dark. $\endgroup$ – John Dvorak Jun 21 '17 at 8:10
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    $\begingroup$ Photosynthesis limitations are irrelevant if being considered the crux of the problem. The OP asked for the possibility of something growing on a person, not in a person, so that it is visible. I think we can safely say that something that exists both inside and outside a person qualifies as being on a person, as plants need to put their roots somewhere. For popular media references, check out Season 1 Episode 2 of HANNIBAL, Amuse-Bouche for an example of plants growing on/in people. $\endgroup$ – kayleeFrye_onDeck Jun 21 '17 at 22:48
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Man, and I wanted to be a smartass and recommend Chia helmets, but you had to go and use .


Farther south, in the sweltering Mişymaşy jungles, the indigenous Wişywaşy tribe have a far more cruel method of punishment. Criminals are tied down in special tents where they are fed and tended, and protected from attack by the yhettis. There, a small wound is made and allowed to fester and necrotize. Administrations of special potent combinations of antibiotics and histamines form cystic walls surrounding the necrotic tissues so as to protect the victim from spread infections and to foster the necrosis. Putrefaction is allowed to continue for several days.
Eventually, special sanctified soil is mixed in with the wound, and a seed of the sacred Redikkulos vine is allowed to germinate. When the vine has grown to a length of 2 or so ficties, the criminal, now ready to be admitted back into their society, is unbound and allowed to go free.
Maintaining a Redikkulos vine in such a manner is thought to help purify the criminal.

― from the journals of Dirk Dark, adventurer extraordinare.

Personally, I doubt the veracity of Dirk's documents. Later scholarly snobbishness has postulated that he was little more than a spindoctor for the so–called Glorious Republic — which was, as we well know, one of the most despotic, totalitarian oligarchies to ever arise on the Sunken Continent.

― “My Thoughts on a Diverse Variety of Things” by Sire Clyde Shortstoff, prime minister to the people of the royal Hoytitauyts.

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  • $\begingroup$ What is the source of this? None of these names return results on Google. $\endgroup$ – Timbo Jun 21 '17 at 17:21
  • $\begingroup$ @Timbo I made it all up, you goof! The original question seemed a little bare on the actual worldbuilding, so I added some myself. $\endgroup$ – can-ned_food Jun 21 '17 at 17:23
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    $\begingroup$ Oh right I'm on worldbuilding, where fictional answers are acceptable & encouraged. $\endgroup$ – Timbo Jun 21 '17 at 17:28
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    $\begingroup$ Redikkulos... sure... $\endgroup$ – John Dvorak Jun 22 '17 at 11:43
  • $\begingroup$ @JanDvorak also, Wishywashy tribe of the Mishymashy jungle. hehe. $\endgroup$ – Chieron Jun 22 '17 at 15:36
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To grow plants need

  • light
  • minerals

The first excludes growth inside the body, the second excludes growth solely on the body. Normally plants rely on microbes present in the ground to decompose organic matters into elemental components they can absorb (Nitrates, Phosphates, Sulfates, etc) which are then used for their growth. Direct assimilation is not possible.

You may change a bit the aim and go for fungi. They (some of them, at least) already grow directly on rotting trees. Not sure if you need some handwavium, too. Normally in nature a corpse doesn't last undisturbed long enough for a fungus to grow, like a rotting tree does.

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    $\begingroup$ Fungi do grow on humans. I'm pretty sure warts and athletes foot are both fungi. $\endgroup$ – Bellerophon Jun 20 '17 at 14:46
  • $\begingroup$ @Bellerophon Don't forget candidiasis, which I had and was.... let's say "less than pleasant"... $\endgroup$ – xDaizu Jun 20 '17 at 15:30
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    $\begingroup$ Mushrooms can definitely grow on corpses, and I think there was House episode with one growing in a human. For that to happen though the human needs to be immunocompromised $\endgroup$ – Andrey Jun 20 '17 at 15:35
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    $\begingroup$ @Bellerophon: Warts are caused by a virus infection. $\endgroup$ – Henning Makholm Jun 20 '17 at 15:38
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    $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch I think those are called parasites. So, "phytoparasite" would be the preferred term I guess, if it had plant-like cells. $\endgroup$ – John Dvorak Jun 21 '17 at 16:07
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The human body tends to be pretty good at rejecting foreign materials. Plant or not, often if you put something that isn't supposed to be in a human body the body will try to remove it. This is part of the body's immune response. You can see it happening with something as simple as a splinter in your finger.

This can even happen with surgical implants. I had a friend who had a joint in his foot/ankle replaced with an artificial implant, his body rejected the implant and effectively tried to push it out. I've never seen anyone in so much pain...

So, realistically an implanted seed could sprout inside a human body, but the real pain/torture comes when the body starts to reject the seed/plant and push it back through the tissue and skin.

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    $\begingroup$ Yes, I recall a news article about a sprout in a person's eye. It reflects that it seems to be a good environment so why doesn’t it happen more often? Because the living body actively prevents such things. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Jun 20 '17 at 21:39
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    $\begingroup$ I also was going to mention the delicate surgery to remove the seed that had sprouted in someone's eye. Apparently eyeballs are a weak spot in the immune system; go read up on eyeflukes for related info. $\endgroup$ – arp Jun 21 '17 at 14:51
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Perhaps it could be possible if an already-rooted plant was transplanted, somehow without killing the host, onto the human, with its roots in their stomach (so it could parasitically steal minerals like a tapeworm) but with the leaves outside? Birds have lived with arrows sticking through their bodies, for example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2KCUpB_f5hI Maybe if the plant was surgically put in your navel or in a fashion so there was no "gaping hole", it could stop you from bleeding out.

This is a really gruesome question!

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to WorldBuilding iammax! If you have a moment please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. Have fun! $\endgroup$ – Sec SE - clear Monica's name Jun 21 '17 at 6:18
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    $\begingroup$ I do not think the roots in the stomache will work as we can dissolve other organic matter, so the roots will be gone soon aswell. But maybe taking the minerals from the blood might work? $\endgroup$ – C.Fe. Jun 21 '17 at 10:09
  • $\begingroup$ The genetics of the flora would probably need a bit of tinkering. But, hey, we'd almost be like lichens then, wouldn't we? Eating the fruit of your own personal strawberry would supply you with sugars; you could obtain the minerals and amino acids from elsewhere in your diet. Well, why not go full lichenous chimera and implant fungi and a few other varieties of fruit, too — like legumes, squash, and corn? Eventually, we'd be walking around like Carmen Miranda, and as we became more tree-ish — well, you get the idea. $\endgroup$ – can-ned_food Jun 21 '17 at 17:36
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During a snowball fight, my uncle got a direct head hit. Apparently, some seed was mixed in with the snow, because a few days later, a plant started sprouting from his ear.

Forget about theoretical answers to your question; the practical answer is yes.

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    $\begingroup$ Pics or it didn't happen. $\endgroup$ – jpmc26 Jun 21 '17 at 6:39
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    $\begingroup$ Obviously a lesson on maintaining adequate hygiene. $\endgroup$ – can-ned_food Jun 21 '17 at 6:53
  • $\begingroup$ Strongly second @jpmc26 $\endgroup$ – Swayam Siddha Jun 22 '17 at 6:19
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As a PhD in biology I want to add my 3 cents: plants do NOT need light to grow IF they can absorb sugars from the media on which they grow. Which mainly happens in controlled laboratory cultures, but hey, we're on worldbuilding, right? The plants grown without light do look a lot different tough, for starters they are not green, because, of course, they do not produce chlorophyll needlessly.

So, if You want to, You can make up a species of plant which is an opportunistic pathogen and grows inside a human body if the situation is advantageous for it. Of course, the evolution of such a species would be a tale of its own (evolution of pathogens typically is).

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Yes. Spanish Moss does not need soil.

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to WorldBuilding! If you have a moment please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. Your answer is currently in the low-quality review queue because of its length. Please try to flesh it out by editing your post, otherwise this might be deleted because it looks more like a little comment without explanation than an actual answer. Elaborate answers are preferred on this site. $\endgroup$ – Sec SE - clear Monica's name Jun 21 '17 at 5:48
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    $\begingroup$ Fortunately, I see where you are going with this. Something similar happens with mosses and the fur of three- and two-toed sloths. However, the image of a tangled spanish moss clothing the body of a goblin or the like is simply too good to forget. Mind if I appropriate it for one of my worlds? $\endgroup$ – can-ned_food Jun 21 '17 at 17:29

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