Deep Moleherbs

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The Deep Moleherbs split from their ancestor. Unlike the Grassterplents, which could be uprooted to reveal a still very animal-like body, mature Deep Moleherbs—named for how they can bury themselves much, much deeper—are completely unrecognizable as having faunal ancestry. This is because, in addition to new roots erupting from the body as before, the body itself is externally converted almost entirely into root tissue. Its relationship to other fauna is only revealed when it is cut open, unveiling functional musculature making up part of the reproductive organ. The feet have become like four large roots erupting from a bulky center, which itself is covered in often only slightly smaller roots. The reproductive opening and the leaves on either side of it grow upward, though the opening itself no longer emerges from the ground, at least at this stage; the leaves are the only parts of the body which are exposed. The leaves themselves now also tend to branch, increasing their surface area. When the breeding season comes along for a particular species, an external reproductive organ emerges. The Deep Moleherbs notably now come in male and female rather than being hermaphrodites.

The juveniles of Deep Moleherbs are notably altered. With Wright becoming much more inhabited, their feeding method had to be improved. Rather than directly absorbing food through their exposed roots, the juvenile roots are more mobile and can pull food into a small blind gut, where it is liquified with digestive enzymes before being absorbed. This allows them to take on a more varied diet as well; in addition to detritus and directly absorbing microbes from soil, they can also consume roots, mycelium, and small flora. Some species specifically specialize in roots and mycelium, using their mole-like feet to dig it up to consume. This has notably allowed juveniles to reach larger sizes before metamorphosis in some species, though not in all; larger juveniles lack puffs, as they are often too big to be lifted by the wind. They also have simple eyes along the bases of their leaves, allowing them—especially larger, flightless juveniles—to detect and flee from danger.

The Deep Moleherb is sexually dimorphic. As in other asterplents, the reproductive organ is lung-like, literally blowing the spores or larvae out. A more complex external reproductive organ has been formed from the tissue around the rim. The main difference between the external portion in each sex is size and shape; the male’s is tall and has a well-defined stem, while the female’s is short and wide and comparatively close to the ground. They both have many openings, with the male’s being designed to direct spores in many directions while the female’s is simply meant to collect spores without allowing obstruction. After the male sprays his spores in all directions, his external reproductive organ falls off. The spores make their way to the female either by wind or fauna, and the female retains the external portion after being fertilized to ensure the reproductive opening will still be above ground when it comes time to give birth. When the time comes, the external organ will fall apart far more thoroughly and dramatically than the male’s did to ensure a clear opening before the tiny tufted newborns are launched from their mother with a strong puff of air. Deep Moleherbs are perennial and regrow their external reproductive organs the following breeding season. Breeding season generally coincides with spring, thaw, or the wet season, and it may be offset between different species in the same environment. They retain the reflex to audibly cough if debris falls into their reproductive organ, but this does not usually occur as it is sealed when not in use.

There are many species of Deep Moleherb. With all the parts that can’t easily regenerate being located underground, they generally fare pretty well in harsh conditions and against predators. As a result, they can be found all over the Wright continental grouping. They have tough leaves to protect them from predators and harsh environmental conditions, and their roots tend to spread deep and broadly to collect water and reduce erosion. Wetland species have larger root systems to hold them in place and tangle with their neighbors, and desert and polar species tend to prioritize width over depth. They can grow in clumps or carpet the ground depending on the environment, and they often coexist with other ground-covering flora.