The Plants of “Avatar” More Than Just Fantasy

A UC Riverside plant physiologist helped create Pandora's flora

There may be more science behind the lush landscape of "Avatar's" Pandora than the average movie-goer would expect.

Jon Landau, who produced the 3-D sci-fi epic along with James Cameron, brought on a plant physiologist to consult on the moon's native flora and to determine just how a scientist would study it.

"After being briefed on the plot and being shown early images of the plants on Pandora by Jon Landau, I met with Sigourney Weaver [who plays botanist Grace Augustine] and set designers to talk about how a field botanist would study and sample plants to learn about their physiology and biochemistry," Jodie Holt, chairwoman of the department of botany and plant sciences at UC Riverside, told The LA Times.

After advising Weaver, Holt went on to develop full descriptions and a naming system for the moon's plant-life, which all appear in the book "Avatar: An Activist Survival Guide."

"Since some of the plants looked like Earth plants, while others were quite fantastic, and others resembled each other, I started by grouping them by somewhat similar appearance to develop a crude taxonomy," Holt told the paper.

But, as with any major Hollywood flick, the science is never perfect -- Holt did find one flaw in botanist Grace Augustine's lab.

"The fact that Grace smoked could be a problem in the lab," she told the paper. "The tobacco mosaic virus is common on cigarette tobacco and can easily be transmitted from a smoker's hands to biological samples and contaminate them."

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