AskDefine | Define trifid

Dictionary Definition

trifid adj : divided into three lobes; "trifid petals"

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  1. Divided into three lobes.

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Extensive Definition

The triffid is a highly venomous fictional species of plant that appears to have limited intelligence and survival instincts. It is the titular antagonist from the 1951 novel The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham and also later appears in Simon Clark's novel The Night of the Triffids, a sequel set 25 years later, in which the triffid evolves into a more threatening form.
Triffids also feature in the 1957 BBC radio dramatization of Wyndham's book, in a considerably altered film which was produced in 1962, and in a more faithful television serial which was produced by the BBC in 1981.
The name may be related to the Trifid Nebula, a region of star formation originally named by John Herschel because it appeared to have three components, resembling a three-lobed flower in photographs taken in visible light.


The origin of the triffid species was hinted at by Wyndham, but was never fully revealed. Twenty or more years prior to the events of The Day of the Triffids, the original "gossamer-slung" triffid seeds, stolen from a Soviet research facility, were dispersed worldwide after the aircraft they were packed in was destroyed at high-altitude during the Cold War.
Wyndham's narrator speculates that the triffids may have been a bioengineered hybrid species; created using material from several other plants, by the real-life Soviet biologist Trofim Lysenko. This comparison is fueled by Wyndham describing the triffids by breaking them down into their components parts, and comparing these parts to existing plants. The narrator quickly dismisses the idea that triffids are a naturally occurring species, or that they are aliens.
In the 1962 film adaptation, the triffids were a form of extraterrestrial plant life whose seeds were spread across the globe during a meteor shower.

Physical characteristics

A triffid can be divided into three components: base, trunk, and head (which contains a venomous sting).
The base of a triffid is a large muscle-like root mass comprising many thick tentacles. When dormant/docile, these tentacles are rooted into the ground and are used to draw nutrients, as with a normal plant. When active, triffids use these tentacles to propel themselves along at a moderate walking pace. They are capable of moving faster over open ground. Triffids' roots/tentacles are sufficiently articulate to allow them to climb stairs, and strong enough to allow them to push through fencing. They are not, however, prehensile enough to allow them to use tools.
The trunk of a triffid is several inches thick and resembles a sprouting leek. It is thickest close to the head and the base, and tapers off in the middle. A triffid's neck can range from a few feet in height to around two metres. It has leaf-like foliage where it meets the base of the triffid.
The upper part of a triffid can be referred to as the head, although it does not contain the usual sensory organs associated with an animal's head. It consists of a brightly colored, hollow, flower like aperture that resembles the top of a Heliamphora or Darlingtonia californica. The head houses a triffid's sting. The flower also contains a mucilage type liquid which is seen ensnaring insects, although other purposes are unknown.
A triffid's sting is a flat paddle-like appendage on a flexible stalk that protrudes from the head of a triffid like a stamen or tongue. When attacking, a triffid will lash out at its target using its sting, primarily aiming for its prey's face or head, and with considerable speed and force. The sting leaves behind a distinctive rectangular welt with linear cuts running along it. Often traces of dark green triffid venom are visible in the wound.
Triffid venom is fast-acting and can fell a victim almost instantly. In the 1962 version, poison was ejected in a gas-like spray from the head of the triffid.
In the wild, triffids move slowly and apparently at random. They emit a slow, hollow low-pitched clicking sound -- in the TV series this is shown to be achieved by beating their bole-like lower section with special 'sticks'; protuberances seemingly there for this purpose. Their 'calls' can carry for a considerable distance. Triffids remain docile until they sense the presence of potential prey. At this point, a triffid's call will become faster and louder and it will home in on its prey through the path of least resistance until it becomes close enough to attack using its sting. Wild triffids may also wait for prey and ambush them.
Typically, triffids will push against any barrier between them and their prey. A lone triffid will have little impact on most barriers, but a large herd can bring down even a strong fence. Once its prey has been stung and killed, a triffid will approach and wait to one side with its roots in the earth until the body begins to decay. When the flesh has partially decayed, the sting will pull flesh from the body and lift it to the head in order to feed. It is necessary to wait for decay, as the flesh on a freshly killed body is too tough for the sting to pull apart.
A triffid hearing the rapid call of another triffid will become more active, and will follow the sound. This can result in a lone triffid, or a small group, quickly becoming a large threatening herd.

Evolution of the triffid threat

Soon after the discovery of the first triffid seeds, scientists learned that their bodies were a potentially lucrative source of protein and natural oils. Despite their dangerous nature, it was determined that the value of a triffid outweighed the risks, and people began to cultivate them as a commercial crop. This resulted in triffid seeds being spread all over the world in a comparatively short space of time: within 20 years, triffids were a common crop in numerous countries.
Though triffids kept by private breeders and collectors had their stings docked, for safety reasons; most commercially grown triffids were left with their stings attached, as docking was found to reduce the quality of the oil that they produced.
This situation persisted for many years, until a burst of light, initially thought to be from a comet, but later speculated to be a high-altitude weapons discharge, blinded much of the human race.
Without sighted keepers to maintain their fences and to check the tethers that kept them in place, small groups of triffids began escaping from their farms and established wild populations. Urban triffids, with nobody to prevent their stings from regrowing, soon joined them.
Although slow moving and lacking in intelligence, newly freed triffids found blind humans to be easy targets and began to attack them.
As starvation, disease, accidents, and infighting further reduce human numbers, the increasingly bold and numerous triffids begin to take over, forcing humans out of the cities and into isolated hamlets and fortified farms in the countryside.
In the 1962 film adaptation, the triffids were initially docile and easy to round up and farm, as in Wyndham's original vision. However, they became more active and aggressive when Earth once again passed through the debris belt that seeded them in this continuity (See Origins). This event also resulted in the blindness of those who witnessed it, and the rise of the triffids as the dominant life form in many areas.


Although hinted at, Wyndham never clarified whether triffids were intelligent or whether they were acting on basic pre-programmed instincts.
It is known that they possessed sufficient inherent survival instinct to be repelled from an electric fence belonging to a group of surviving humans. They also appeared to be intelligent enough to learn that, if they could not hear the sound of a generator powering the fence, it meant that the fence was inactive.
It was also unclear whether the triffids from the 1962 and 1981 productions were intelligent, though similar hints were laid that they possessed at least rudimentary intelligence.

Combating triffids

Triffids are plant-based and their vital functions rely on distributed systems instead of distinct internal organs. This makes them difficult to kill using firearms and allows them to absorb considerable blunt force damage to their body section without being impaired. Triffids are also capable of limited bodily regeneration, and can regrow their sting if it is damaged or destroyed.
The most effective way to stop or disable a triffid is to sever its trunk or otherwise destroy its head. This will render it unable to locate prey, or to attack with its stinger.
In the 1962 film adaptation, it was discovered that triffids could be destroyed using salt water. A triffid doused in salt water dissolved in under a minute, leaving only an organic residue behind.
Like all plant life, triffids are vulnerable to fire. Once a triffid is set ablaze, it is unable to put the fire out itself. However, it may take several minutes for a triffid to succumb, during which time the triffid still presents a threat to those around it.

See also

trifid in Czech: Trifid
trifid in Japanese: トリフィド
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