The natural world is often stranger than we know. Take for example the discovery of arsenic based bacteria here on earth, something fundamentally different from all other life on the planet. One very real natural phenomenon that we encounter only rarely outside of the cinema is bio-luminescence. The following photo is of a very real fungi; the idea is decidedly fictional however...
Issue #9: The Emerald Death Cap
The Emerald Death Cap is a magically active fungus coveted by arcane spell casters, necromancers, assassins, and practitioners of holistic medicine. Like all magically active fungi the Emerald Death Cap resists every effort to cultivate it and is exceedingly rare. An average sized specimen, with a cap roughly one to two inches in diameter will fetch 5000 gp or more in even small cities, and can often achieve prices of 10,000 gp in the largest cities.
The Emerald Death Cap grows on the graves and corpses of creatures of magic. In addition the Death Cap requires a dark and damp environment. These two environmental requirements together are responsible for the Emerald Death Cap's rarity, and its known resistance to cultivations. Emerald Death Caps are most frequently found in clumps or clusters of three to five caps with as many as a half-dozen clusters per site, depending on the size and magical power of the cultivation site. Rare finds on the remains of subterranean leviathans have been known to yield dozens or more clusters and have often made the finder fabulously wealthy (or very dead). The Emerald Death cap is universally poisonous to all life and has a noxious scent of rotting flesh.
The uses of the Emerald Death Cap are many, and like all magically active fungi are known to be a powerful source of concentrated mana. Necromancers are known to covet the fungus for its ability to aid in the restoration and animation of necrotic flesh. It is said that a single cap can be brewed into a potion of such potency as to animate a score of fresh corpses into zombies under the necromancer's control. Arcane spell casters who are not necromancers can utilize the fungus to aid in the creation of artifacts that drain life or affect the undead, or the mushroom can be prepared in such a way as to become safe to consume after which it will energize the imbiber with its latent mana. The toxic nature of the Death cap has made it attractive and sought after by assassins who can prepare one of the world's most potent magical poisons from the fungus, and holistic practitioners are aware of preparations of the Death Cap that will yield a powerful antitoxin. Other uses and preparations can be found in ancient texts and obscure tomes; the Death Cap is said to be but one ingredient in a potion of everlasting life.
The undead have their own uses for the negative energy Emerald Death Cap. Beings like mummies, liches, zombies and vampires can ingest an unprepared Death Cap for restorative effects. Prepared Death Caps can be refined to provide potent temporary or permanent increases in power. Immensely powerful zombies and flesh golems have been known to be the result of applications of the Emerald Death Cap during creation or after the fact, for instance.
What kinds of unique magical and mundane plants do you add to your own fantasy games? Do you use real world botanicals and photos as your inspiration or do you find inspiration from a different source?