was not until some investigator produced a specimen of triffid oil for their inspection that they realized that
it corresponded exactly with the sam-pie Umberso had shown them, and that it was the seeds of
the triffid be had set out to bring.
What happened to Umberto himself will never be definitely known. It is my guess that over the Pacific
Ocean, somewhere high up in the stratosphere, he found himself attacked by Russian planes. It may be
that the first he knew of it was when cannon shells from Russian fighters started to break up his craft.
Perhaps Umberto's plane exploded, perhaps it just fell to pieces. Whichever it was, I am sure that when
the fragments began their long, long fall toward the sea they left behind them something which looked at
first like a white vapor.
It was not vapor. It was a cloud of seeds, floating, so infinitely light they were, even in the rarefied air.
Millions of gossamer-slung triffid seeds, free now to drift wherever the winds of the world should take
It might be weeks, perhaps months, before they would sink to Earth at last, many of them thousands of
miles from their starting place.
That is, I repeat, conjecture. But I cannot see a more probable way in which that plant, intended to be
kept secret, could come, quite suddenly, to be found in almost every part of the world.
My introduction to a triffid came early. It so happened that we had one of the first in the locality growing
in our own garden. The plant was quite well developed before any of us bothered to notice it, for it had
taken root along with a number of other casuals behind the bit of hedge that screened the rubbish heap. It
wasn't doing any harm there, and it wasn't in anyone's way. So when we did notice it later on, we'd just
take a look at it now and then to see how it was getting along, and let it be.
However, a triffid is certainly distinctive, and we couldn't help getting a bit curious about it after a time.
Not, perhaps, very actively, for there are always a few unfamiliar things that somehow or other manage
to lodge in the neglected corners of a garden, but enough to mention to one another that it was beginning
to look a pretty queer sort of thing.
Nowadays, when everyone knows only too well what a triffid looks like, it is difficult to recall how odd
and somehow foreign the first ones appeared to us. Nobody, as far as I know, felt any misgiving or alarm
about them then. I imagine that most people thought of them-when they thought of them at all-in much the
same way that my father did.
I have a picture in my memory now of him examining ours and puzzling over it at a time when it must
have been about a year old. In almost every detail it was a half-size replica of a fully grown triffid-only it
didn't have a name yet, and no one had seen one fully grown. My father leaned over, peering at it through
his horn-rimmed gasses, fingering its stalk, and blowing gently through his gingery mustache, as was his
habit when thoughtful. He inspected the straight stem, and the woody bole from which it sprang. He gave
curious, if not very penetrative, attention to the three small, bare sticks which grew straight up beside the
stem. He smoothed the short sprays of leathery green leaves between his finger and thumb as if their
texture might tell him something. Then he peered into the curious, funnel-like formation at the top of the
stem, still puffing reflectively, but inconclusively, through his mustache. I remember the first time he lifted
me up to look inside that conical cup and see the tightly wrapped whorl within, It looked not unlike the
new, close-rolled frond of a fern, emerging a couple of inches from a sticky mess in the base of the cup. I
did not touch it, but I knew the stuff must be sticky because there were flies and other small insects
struggling in it.
More than once my father ruminated that it was pretty queer, and observed that one of these days he
really must try to find out what it was. I don't think he ever made the effort,
nor, at that stage, was he likely to have learned much if he had tried.
The thing would be about four feet high then. There must have been plenty of them about, growing tip
quietly and inoffensively, with nobody taking any particular notice of them at least it seemed so, for if the
biological or botanical experts were excited over them, no news of their interest percolated to the general
public. And so the one in our garden continued its growth peacefully, as did thousands like it in neglected
spots all over the world.
It was some little time later that the first one picked up its roots and walked.
That improbable achievement must, of course, have been known for some time in Russia, where it was
doubtless classified as a state secret, but, as far as I have been able to confirm, its first occurrence in the
outside world took place in Indo-China-which meant that people went on taking practically no notice.
Indo-China was one of these regions from which such curious and unlikely yarns might be expected to
drift in, and frequently did-the kind of thing an editor might conceivably use if news were scarce and a
touch of the "mysterious East" would liven the paper up a bit. But in any case the Indo-Chinese specimen
can have had no great lead. Within a few weeks reports of walking plants were pouring in from Sumatra,
Borneo, Belgian Congo, Colombia, Brazil, and most places in the neighborhood of the equator.
This time they got into print, all right. But the much-handled stories, written up with that blend of
cautiously defensive frivolity which the press habitually employed to cover themselves in matters
regarding sea serpents, flying saucers, thought transference, and other irregular phenomena, prevented
anyone from realizing that these accomplished plants at all resembled the quiet, respectable weed beside
our rubbish heap. Not until the pictures began to appear did we realize that they were identical with it
save in size.
The newsreel men were quickly off the mark. Possibly they got some good and interesting pictures for
their trouble of flying to outlandish places. but there was a current theory among cutters that more than a
few seconds of any one news subject-except a boxing match-could not fail to paralyze an audience with
boredom. My first view, therefore, of a development which was to play such an important part in my
future, as well as in so many other people's, was a glimpse sandwiched between a hula contest in
Honolulu and the First Lady launching a battleship. (No, that is no anachronism.)
They were still building them: even admirals have to live.) I was permitted to see a few triffids sway
across the screen to the kind of accompaniment supposed to be on the level of the great movie-going
"And now, folks, get a load of what our cameraman found in Ecuador. Vegetables on vacation! You've
only seen this kind of thing after a party, but down in sunny Ecuador they see it any time-and no hangover
to follow! Monster plants on the march! Say, now, that's given me a big idea! Maybe if we can educate
our potatoes right we can fix it so they'll walk right into the pot. How'd that be, Momma?"
For the short time the scene was on I stared at it, fascinated. There was our mysterious rubbish-heap
plant grown to a height of seven feet or more. There was no mistaking it and it was "walking"!
The bole, which I now saw for the first time, was shaggy with little rootlet hairs, It would have been
almost spherical but for three bluntly tapered projections extending from the lower part. Supported on
these, the main body was lifted about a foot clear of the ground.
When it "walked" it moved rather like a man on crutches. Two of the blunt "legs" slid forward, then the
whole thing lurched as the rear one drew almost level with them, then the two in front slid forward again.
At each "step" the long stem whipped violently back and forth; it gave one a kind of seasick feeling to
watch it. As a method of progress it looked both strenuous and clumsy-faintly reminiscent of young
elephants at play. One felt that if it were to go on lurching for long in that fashion it would be bound to
strip all its leaves if it did not actually break its stem. Nevertheless, ungainly though it looked, it was
contriving to cover the round at something like an average walking pace.
That was about all I had time to see before the battleship launching began. It was not a lot, but it was
enough to incite an investigating spirit in a boy. For if that thing in Ecuador could do a trick like that, why
not the one in our garden? Admittedly ours was a good deal smaller, but it did look the same.
About ten minutes after I got home I was digging round our triffid. carefully loosening the earth near it to
encourage it to "walk."
Unfortunately there was an aspect of this self-propelled plant discovery which the newsreel people either
had not experienced or had chosen for some reason of their own not to reveal. There was no warning,
either. I was bending down, intent on clearing the earth without harming the plant, when something from
nowhere hit me one terrific slam and knocked me out...
I woke up to find myself in bed, with my mother, my father, and the doctor watching me anxiously. My
head felt as if it were split open. I was aching all over, and, as I later discovered, one side of my face was
decorated with a blotchy red raised weal, The insistent questions as to how I came to be lying
unconscious in the garden were quite useless; I had no faintest idea what it was that had hit mc. And
some little time passed before I learned that I must have been one of the first persons in England to be
stung by a triffid and get away with it. The triffid was, of course, immature. But before I had fully
recovered my father bad found out what had undoubtedly happened to me, and by the time I went into
the garden again he had wreaked stern vengeance on our triffid and disposed of the remains on a bonfire.
Now that walking plants were established facts, the press lost its former tepidity and bathed them in
publicity. So a name had to be found for them. Already there were botanists wallowing, after their
custom, in polysyllabic dog Latin and Greek to produce variants on ambulans and pseudopodia, but what
the newspapers and the public wanted was something easy on the tongue and not too heavy on the
headlines for general use. If you could see the papers of that time you would find them referring to:
and a number of other mysterious things not even beginning with "tri"-though almost all centered on the
feature of that active, three-pronged root.
There was argument, public, private, and bar-parlor, with heated championship of one term or another
on near-scientific, quasi-etymological, and a number of other grounds, but gradually one term began to
dominate this philological gymkhana, in its first form it was not quite acceptable, but common usage
modified the original lone first "i," and custom quickly wrote in a second "f," to leave no doubt about it.
And so emerged the standard term. A catchy little name originating in some newspaper office as a
handy label for an oddity-but destined one day to be associated with pain, fear, and misery-TRIFFID. ...
The first wave of public interest soon ebbed away. Triffids were, admittedly, a bit weird-but that was,
after all, just because they were a novelty. People had felt the same about novelties of other days: about
kangaroos, giant lizards, black swans. And when you came to think of it, were triffids all that much
queerer than mudfish, ostriches, polliwogs, and a hundred other things? The bar was an animal that had
learned to fly; well, here was a plant that had learned to walk-what of that?
But there were features of it to be less casually dismissed. On its origins the Russians, true to type, lay
low and said nothing. Even those who had heard of Umberto did not yet connect him with it. Its sudden
appearance, and, even more, its wide distribution, promoted very puzzled speculation. For though it
matured more rapidly in the tropics, specimens in various stages of development were reported from
almost any region outside the polar circles and the deserts.
People were surprised, and a little disgusted, to learn that the species was carnivorous, and that the flies
and other insects caught in the cups were actually digested by the sticky substance there. We in
temperate zones were not ignorant of insectivorous plants, but we were unaccustomed to finding them
outside special hothouses, and apt to consider them as in some way slightly indecent, or at least
improper. But actually alarming was the discovery that the whorl topping a triffid's stem could lash out as
a slender stinging weapon ten feet long, capable of discharging enough poison to kill a man if it struck
squarely on his unprotected skin.
As soon as this danger was appreciated there followed a nervous smashing and chopping of triffids
everywhere, until it occurred to someone that all that was necessary to make them harmless was the
removal of the actual stinging weapon. At this, the slightly hysterical assault upon the plants declined, with
their numbers considerably thinned. A little later it began to be a fashion to have a safely docked triffid or
two about one's garden. It was found that it took about two years for the lost sting to be dangerously
replaced, so that an annual pruning assured that they were in a state of safety where they could provide
vast amusement for the children.
In temperate countries, where man had succeeded in putting most forms of nature save his own under a
reasonable degree of restraint, the status of the triffid was thus made quite clear. But in the tropics,
particularly in the dense forest areas, they quickly became a scourge.
The traveler very easily failed to notice one among the normal bushes and undergrowth, and the moment
he was in range the venomous sting would slash out. Even the regular inhabitant of such a district found it
difficult to detect a motionless triffid cunningly lurking beside a jungle path. They were uncannily sensitive
to any movement near them, and hard to take unawares.
Dealing with them became a serious problem in such regions. The most favored method was to shoot the
top off the stem, and the sting with it. The jungle natives took to carrying long, light poles mounted with
hooked knives, which they used effectively if they could get their blows in first- but not at all if the triffid
had a chance to sway forward and increase its range by an unexpected four or five feet. Before long,
however, these pike like devices were mostly superseded by spring-operated guns of various types.
Most of them shot spinning disks, crosses, or small boomerangs of thin steel. As a rule they were
inaccurate above about twelve yards, though capable of slicing a triffid stern neatly at twenty-five if they
hit it. Their invention pleased both the authorities-who had an almost unanimous distaste for the
indiscriminate toting of rifles-and the users, who found the missiles of razor-blade steel f at cheaper and
lighter than cartridges, and admirably adaptable to silent banditry.
Elsewhere, immense research into the nature, habits, and constitution of the triffid went on. Earnest
experimenters set out to determine, in the interests of science, how far and for how long it could walk;
whether it could be said to have a front, or could perform its march in any direction with equal
clumsiness; what proportion of its rime it must spend with its roots in the ground; what reactions it
showed to the presence of various chemicals in the soil; and a vast quantity of other questions, both
useful and useless.
The largest specimen ever observed in the tropics stood nearly ten feet high. No European specimen
over eight feet had been seen, and the average was little over seven. They appeared to adapt easily to a
wide range of climate and soils. They had, it seemed, no natural enemies-other than man.
But there were a number of not unobvious characteristics which escaped comment for some little time. It
was, for instance, quite a while before anyone drew attention to the uncanny accuracy with which they
aimed their stings, and that they almost invariably struck for the head. Nor did anyone at first take notice
of their habit of lurking near their fallen victims. The reason for that became clear only when it was shown
that they fed upon flesh as well as upon insects. The stinging tendril did not have the muscular power to
tear firm flesh, but it had strength enough to pull shreds from a decomposing body and lift them to the cup
on its stem.
There was no great interest, either, in the three little leafless sticks at the base of the stem. There was a
light notion that they might have something to do with the reproductive system-that system which tends to
be a sort of botanical glory-hole for all parts of doubtful purpose until they can be sorted out and more
specifically assigned later on. It was assumed, consequently, that their characteristic of suddenly losing
their immobility and rattling a rapid tattoo against the main stem was some strange form of triffidian
Possibly my uncomfortable distinction of getting myself stung so early in the triffid era had the effect of
stimulating my interest, for I seemed to have a sort of link with them from then on. I spent-or "wasted," if
you look at me through my father's eyes-a great deal of fascinated time watching them.
One could not blame him for considering this a worthless pursuit, yet later the time turned out to have
been better employed than either of us suspected, for it was just before I left school that the Attic &
European Fish Oil Company reconstituted itself, dropping the word "Fish" in the process. The public
learned that it and similar companies in other countries were about to farm triffids on a large scale, in
order to extract valuable oils and juices and to press highly nutritious oil cake for stock feeding.
Consequently, triffids moved into the realm of big business overnight.
Right away I decided my future. I applied to the Arctic & European, where my qualifications got me a
job on the production side. My father's disapproval was somewhat qualified by the rate of pay, which
was good for my age. But when I spoke enthusiastically of the future he blew doubtfully through his
mustache. He had real faith only in a type of work steadied by long tradition, but he let me have my way.
"After all, if the thing isn't a success, you'll find out young enough to start in on something more solid," he
There turned out to be no need for that. Before he and my mother were killed together in a holiday
airbus crash five years later, they had seen [he new companies drive all competing oils off the market and
those of us who had been in at the beginning apparently well set for life.
One of the early corners was my friend Walter Lucknor. There had been some doubt at first about
taking Walter on. He knew little of agriculture, less of business, and lacked the qualifications for lab
work. On the other hand, he did know a lot about triffids-he had a kind of inspired knack with them.
What happened to Walter that fatal May years later I do not know-though I can guess. It is a sad thing
that he did not escape. He might have been immensely valuable later on. I don't think anybody really
understands triffids, or ever will, but Walter came nearer to beginning to understand them than any man I
have known. Or should I say that he was given to intuitive feelings about them?
It was a year or two after the job had begun that he first surprised me.
The sun was close to setting. We had knocked off for the day and were looking with a sense of
satisfaction at three new fields of nearly fully grown triffids. In those days we didn't simply corral them as
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