Grigory Ryzhakov – Russian Writer

Plants and Literature

Fatsia covered in snow, Hammersmith, London, December 2010

Fatsia covered in snow, Hammersmith, London, December 2010


Johann Goethe is one of my role models, he was a multitalented person, most known for his literary work and especially his masterpiece, Faust.

Goethe was also a botanist, a specialist in plant morphology. He wrote a book, Metamorphosis of Plants, where he explored the evolution of plant leaves into other organs such as petals. He believed that plants were not created in all their variety straight away, but they have been constantly changing their morphology over generations in order to adapt to their changing environment, –  a thought preceding Darwin’s evolutionary theory.

Why am I talking about plants and what do they have to do with literature?

I have always had three passions in my life: music, literature and plants. After finishing school I pursued the academic path: I wanted to become a botanist, but ended up getting a PhD in molecular biology of immunity. Still, I know way much more about plant science than it’s expected from someone in my field.

So, plants remained my interest, and when I started writing prose in my late twenties, plants became an imporant element of setting and theme in my stories, a sort of signature.

Growing plants, visiting botanical gardens I find incredibly relaxing and inspiring. Plants are my major writing muse.

In my new Russian sci-fi novel, Made In Bionia, all three major protagonists are professionally connected to plants: Welka is an algologist (she studies algae like diatoms), Finch is a garden designer and William is under the garden designer disguise  while being an industrial spy. I also use plants to convey emotions of my characters and deepen the scene setting at the same time. For instance, my protagonists are waiting for their friend in the escape boat, and Welka comments with reproach on Finch fiddling (as a way of calming down his nerves) with tuft of a coastal grass Scheichzeria, which is a protected species. This is a small detail, but it is organic to the general style of the book and the characters’ personalities.

In my latest romcom book Mr Right & Mr Wrong, which is published as an ebook and the print edition is in preparation, there is a mystery man sending roses to my heroine who studies agronomy at Imperial College  London and works at a florist’s part time. So, plants are an integral part of this story too.

Each chapter of the book bears a plant name. This was a brilliant idea from my editor, Stephanie Dagg. I realised that not only I can use flower names as chapter titles, but they also should reflect the major events or motifs of characters in a particular chapter. Now, some of the titles the readers found easy to relate to the events of the story. Other titles are symbolic and less obvious, so the book is a kind of a puzzle, because it keeps you wondering why a chapter is titled with a cactus name.

Finally, my heroine is giving her final degree exam presentation on a tiny aquatic fern called Azolla, one of the coolest organisms on our planet, that keeps saving millions of human lives. This plant deserves a book on its own.

I often take pictures of my cacti, street plants, plants in botanical gardens and then use them as my inspiration. You may check out some of them on my Pinterest boards – Cacti and MrRight&MrWrong Plants.

If you are a plant enthusiast like me and use Pinterest, Flickr or Facebook or other online outlets to post photos and info on plants, it’d be great if you left a comment with the links to plant photos below.




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