Plant science in...

Plant science in Pokémon

In 1995, Satoshi Tajiri created a Franchise that would prove popular with children and adults for the next 25 years. Pokémon (short for Pocket Monsters) is a game in which human characters capture and train Pokémon to battle each other. What started as a video game quickly expanded into a card game, TV series, books, manga comics, several films and even a theme park.

Pokémon are classified into different types, such as Fire, Water and Grass, and they are based on real-life organisms and items. In this post, I’m going to introduce you to three Grass Type Pokémon and their real-life counterparts.


Our first Pokémon is the Grass and Psychic Type Celebi, who was first introduced in Generation II. Celebi is capable of time-travel and is the guardian of the Ilex Forest, in which it appears to be constant night because the trees block out all light. It is said that if Celebi are seen in the Pokémon world, a bright and prosperous future is ahead.

This little green, fairy-like creature is based on Sweet Onions; non-pungent varieties of onion (Allium cepa). One variety of Sweet Onion is called Vidalia because they originated in Vidalia, Georgia (USA) in the 1930s. Producing an onion of this type requires soil with low sulphur content and selective breeding. In each growing season, only seeds from the biggest, sweetest and roundest onions were taken and reseeded.

If Celebi is the guardian of Ilex, Sweet Onions could have been considered the guardians of Bermuda at one time. Onions were first brought to Bermuda in 1616 where they grew phenomenally well and soon became a staple [1]. By the mid-1800s, the US were traded up to 30,000 boxes of Bermuda Onions weekly, landing Bermuda with the nickname ‘The Onion Patch’. Mark Twain said of them,

The onion is the pride and joy of Bermuda. It is her jewel, her gem of gems. In her conversation, her pulpit, her literature, it is her most frequent and eloquent figure.


Shaymin is a Grass Type Pokémon from Generation IV. This adorable little white and green hedgehog-like creature grows grass on its back and has Gracidea flowers on either side of its head. It uses these flowers when trying to hide, by curling up into a ball and disguising itself as a plant.

Gracidea flowers in the Pokémon universe represent gratitude, and when you show a Shaymin affection, it sprouts more along its back. While Gracidea flowers are not real, they are based on two that are: Chinese Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) and Mandevilla (Mandevilla sp.).

Chinese Hibiscus is a small evergreen shrub that grows flowers in a range of colours from pink to yellow. While Hibiscus flowers have five petals, the Gracidea flower has six. Chinese Hibiscus also holds a different meaning. It is the national flower of Malaysia, where it is called ‘Bunga Raya‘ meaning ‘celebratory flower’ where it represents courage.

Mandevilla, also known as Rocktrumpet, is a climbing plant from Southwestern USA and South America. They produce delicate five-petalled flowers in a similar colour range to Chinese Hibiscus. The trumpet-shape of its flowers is designed to encourage hummingbird pollination [2], as only their long beaks are capable of reaching inside to drink their nectar.


Our final Pokémon for today is Tsareena, a Grass Type from Generation VII. Tsareena is the final form of Bounsweet, after it has evolved to become Steenee. Topped with her crown, this Queenly creature is based on an appropriately regal plant. Tsareena is reminiscent of the Mangosteen (Garcinia mangostana), nicknamed, the “Queen of Fruit”.

The name ‘Tsareena’ is a marriage of the Russian word for a female monarch ‘Tsarina’ and Mangosteen. Mangosteen fruit have a red exocarp (the outer skin of the fruit) that turns dark purple as they ripen. The inner endocarp (the fleshy fruit you eat) is unusual in that it is white.

Mangosteens are sweet and have been described as tasting like strawberries and peaches with creamy vanilla ice cream. Parts of the fruit have been used in indigenous medicine to treat skin ailments for centuries. There is ongoing research into the anti-cancer properties of Mangosteen [3], and chemicals obtained from the fruit have been shown to reduce tumour size in vitro.

What I really enjoyed about the TV series growing up was just before the advertisement break, they would show the outline of a Pokémon and ask, “Who’s that Pokémon?” You’d have the break to work it out and after the break, they’d reveal who it was.

Now that I’m a botanist, I play, “Who’s that plant?” when I’m trying to write these “Plant science in…” posts. To ensure you don’t miss the next one, be sure to follow Fronds with Benefits here, on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.


Pokémon information

[1] The story behind Bermuda’s onion obsession. Go to Bermuda.

[2] Linhart, Y. B., & Feinsinger, P. (1980). Plant-hummingbird interactions: effects of island size and degree of specialization on pollination. J. Ecol.

[3] Akao, Y., Nakagawa, Y., & Nozawa, Y. (2008). Anti-cancer effects of xanthones from pericarps of mangosteen. Int. J. Molecul. Sci.

Image credit

Pokémon images

Chinese Hibiscus: Dinesh Valke / CC BY-SA

Mandevilla: Muffet / CC BY

Sweet Onion: M. Maggs from Pixabay

Mangosteen: Basile Morin / CC BY-SA


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