Black Panther is a fascinating mix of afro-futurism technology and Vodun inspired spiritualism, including visits to the ancestral plane. The Black Panther's abilities are not God-given powers, but stem from his consuming a very rare plant, which is made into a potion that is drunk only by king. That plant is called "the Heart-Shaped Herb." But what is the Heart-Shaped Herb in Black Panther? And should fans be concerned now that it seems the last of the plantings they've tended to for centuries have been burned by Erik Killmonger? WARNING: Spoilers for Black Panther follow.
The Heart-Shaped Herb first appeared in the same Fantastic Four comics from 1966 that introduced the Black Panther character. It is a plant that only grows in Wakanda, much like vibranium is an ore only found there to be mined.
This isn't a coincidence, mind you. The Heart-Shaped Herb may be mythologized as "given to the people of Wakanda by the Panther God Bast" or some such. But Shuri would certainly be able to tell you that the reality is the plant is probably a cousin of the lily, one that mutated due to exposure to the vibranium. Bashenga happened to eat the fruit of the flower's interior, while on the battlefield during one of the flare-ups between the five tribes, causing him to have the vision of the Panther God. His vision, of a united Wakanda that worked together to mine the vibranium, was accepted by the other tribes, and thus the myth (and the Black Panther) was born.
The movie makes it seem like the eating of the Heart-Shaped Herb is a given, and whoever does so just automatically becomes king. But in the comics, consuming it is actually a trial, much like the Trial By Combat we see T'Challa go through, and one where survival is not assured. The journey to the ancestral plane is a vision quest of sorts, as is the ritualistic burial of the body as the consciousness undergoes the experience.
Those who do not survive stay buried. Those who do awake with a heightened sense of agility, strength, and endurance, along with the ability to see in the dark, track by scent, basically the works.
While the use of the herb is not strictly limited to the royal family of Wakanda, it is generally accepted that those who survive the ritual of combat without the herb's properties to gain the throne are the only ones strong enough to ingest it.
So what happens now that the plants have all been burnt? Should we hope the gardeners managed to sneak off a small bit and begin the long regrowing process?
That is a possibility, though the fact is that Killmonger stood down there and watched the gardeners. They were all taken by surprise, first by his murder of their leader, Zuri, then his winning the ritual of combat, and then surviving the vision quest. None of them were prepared for the sudden demand to burn down the garden and might have been too scared to even attempt to pocket a sprig for tending.
What is more likely is that the mutation from the vibranium in the soil is possible to either find in the wild or to recreate in a lab. Fans can assume that the royal family was careful about letting Heart-Shape Herb flowers grow wild on the mountainside, but as the saying goes "life finds a way."
And if there isn't any tucked away growing wild, there's always Shuri. She isn't exactly into plants and biology, but hand it to her as a technological puzzle to solve? Somehow I figure she'll be able to reverse engineer new plants in a few years time.