The Plants of Jurassic Park
I love Jurassic Park (especially the first one), and I’ve watched it more times than I care to remember. But up until recently, I didn’t notice a major plot hole in the series. Plants. Jurassic Park is very uneven in its treatment of the Plant Kingdom in general, recognizing it only when it’s important to the plot. This makes sense, since the movie’s all about the dinosaurs. But the plants are important to think about as well.
I started thinking about Jurassic Plants recently after reading a fan theory about the origin of the dinosaurs in the series. This fan theory says that Dr. Henry Wu actually created the dinosaurs from scratch, and the whole “mosquitoes in amber” was a ruse. Some of this is based on advancements in science since the first movie was made. In the last 20 years, we’ve learned that dinosaurs had feathers, and more importantly, we’ve learned that the half-life of DNA is much less than 65 million years. This theory makes a lot of sense, and there are other clues there. Specifically, the plants in the first movie.
At one point, Dr. Ellie Sattler holds a Cretaceous leaf and realizes it comes from an extinct species. Which leads us to the question, how did they get the plant DNA out of the mosquito blood? The existence of these plants in Jurassic Park are a red flag that the whole thing is a sham.
Dr. Sattler is a paleobotanist, but there are only two scenes in the movie in which she uses her paleobotany skills: identifying the extinct plant above and diagnosing the sick triceratops that ate poisonous berries. The triceratops subplot is never resolved in the movie, and the plants of Jurassic Park are never again mentioned. But here’s the thing, plants are not just scenery. They are alive just like the dinosaurs are, and as Ian Malcolm likes to say, “life finds a way.”
An Ecological Threat
Regardless of whether Dr. Wu extracted extinct plant DNA from mosquitoes or (re)created it from scratch, the brief scene with the leaf shows that genetically resurrected plants exist on the fictional island of Isla Nublar. Like the dinosaurs, these plants are out in the wild, and like the dinosaurs, they have no natural predators. These Jurassic and Cretaceous plants pose a major threat to the world ecosystem. Dr. Wu mentions making all the dinosaurs female to keep them from reproducing, and making them dependent on lysine supplements to live. I wonder if the genetically engineered plants of Jurassic Park have such safeguards. And even if they do, are they going to be as easily thwarted?
Isla Nublar is right off the west coast of Costa Rica, and I have to wonder how quickly genetically engineered seeds would make their way to the mainland. Once they did, they would spread quickly to the Panama Canal, where passing ships could carry these invasive species all around the world. From there it’s all Chaos Theory. Like the dinosaurs, the plants of Jurassic Park would find a way. And we’d all be in a lot of trouble. I don’t know if Jurassic Plants would make a very good movie, but it’s an intriguing idea that ecologists everywhere should consider.