Originating in the alien Distal Tesseract, the shardleaf is a unique species of low-lying, bioluminescent bushes which incorporate silicate minerals and low-level radioactive materials into their leaves as a natural defense against predation. Owing to the sharpness of their leaves, scientists from Petalcap Vale speculate that shardleaves are sessile relatives of the migratory floating briars.
While the name implies otherwise, shardleaves are actually succulent plants similar in structure to aloe or agave plants. The flesh of a shardleaf's fluid-filled foliage features sharp-angled cell walls which incorporate silica, creating razor-sharp scales and edges which seasonally flake off to permit new growth. This causes the ground immediately surrounding a shardleaf to become 'snowy' with cast-off bits of 'shardleaf sand,' a skin and lung irritant which further repels creatures which would normally eat the shardleaf. Shardleaf leaves are bioluminescent in their home habitats. The plants have evolved a strong resistance to the effects of alpha and beta radiation in the minerals they take up through their roots; these minerals, irradiated by the natural particle radiation of their native habitats, serve both to somehow feed the plant (see Dietary Needs and Habits for details) and to act as a long-acting poison against any creature which would brave the sharp skin to consume the plant.
Ecology and Habitats
Shardleaves are typically found in the portions of the Manifold where the Distal Tesseract overlaps with the Northern and Southern Tesseracts.
Dietary Needs and Habits
While shardleaves are capable of surviving anywhere in, or adjacent to, the Distal Tesseract, they fail to thrive outside of regions with seasonal particle radiation. This is speculated to be the result of some unknown 'radiosynthetic' life process combining existing modes of photosynthesis with radioluminescent bodies within the plants' leaves, If so, it would be expected that supplementation with strong, artificial light would likely be as effective, but experiments at the Northwoods Botanical Research Facility have suggested that is not the case.
Uses, Products & Exploitation
Shardleaves are remarkably efficient at concentrating radioactive materials through biological pathways, making the plants useful in nuclear research. Scientists at the Northwoods Botanical Research Facility sometimes crush shardleaves, centrifuge the remains, and perform fractional distillation to extract these minerals for experimental purposes.