What’s Going on in the Woods? Secrecy and the Study of Forest-Texts
Ideally, forests are environments in which secrets flourish as well as trees. But they don’t let humans in (quite literally) on their hidden life. For human ears, they remain stubbornly silent. To understand trees we need translators, that is, humans who speak and write for them. In order to avoid too many things getting lost in translation, writing and speaking for trees must be scrutinized not only by those who know trees but also by those who know texts.
Plants and Psychology
In a recent article in the Journal of Comparative Psychology, Umberto Castiello contends that “many of the sophisticated behaviors plants exhibit are an expression of cognitive competences that are generally attributed to human and nonhuman animals,” and so those behaviors deserve to be addressed by comparative psychologists.
That might surprise you, but it isn’t sheer madness. In fact, there are good reasons to believe Castiello is correct.
Phytopoetics: The Metamorphic Impact of Plants on the Imagination
Phytopoetics, derived from phyto = plant and poiesis = making, is the idea that plants impact the human imagination. This can take many forms, but as a scholar of literary and cultural studies, I focus on plants shaping literature and culture (see the Literary and Cultural Plant Studies Network and especially its extensive plant studies bibliography). Whether this means that plants co-construct poetry (see John Ryan’s work on ecopoetics) or inscribe themselves into art (see Patrícia Vieira’s work on phytographia), the resulting artworks, texts, or ideas derive from both human and plant agency.
How Smart are Plants?
Plants interact with their environment in remarkably complex ways.* They are sensitive to the direction of light. They exchange chemical messages, defend themselves in sophisticated ways against herbivores, and regulate their root growth by taking a multiplicity of factors into account (e.g. gravity, salinity, and moisture). And they possess ‘circadian clocks’ that allow them to adapt their physiological processes to the daily alternation between light and dark.
The Seed of an Idea, the Idea of a Seed: Goethe’s Urpflanze in the 21st Century
Eva Axer and Ross Shields
Half a century before Darwin published On the Origin of Species, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe coined the word “Morphologie” to designate the science of form and transformation. Underlying this science was a concept of metamorphosis, according to which the form of any plant or animal is determined by the interaction of its generic type with environmental conditions, just as the pattern of a fabric—in Goethe’s analogy—is determined by the interweaving of warp and weft. Although Goethe’s approach to morphology has been outdated by current evolution-based and data-driven models, his vision of nature as a dynamic complex of organic and non-organic forces implies a conceptual framework that is as promising as it is problematic.
What is on a Plant’s Mind?
Looking out of the window on a cold, dreary, winter morning; taking your dog out for a walk around the neighborhood in the late-afternoon, after a long day’s work sitting at the desk; or enjoying a well-deserved weekend hike at the nearest park, you are bound to see it. Grass is all around us, adorning well-manicured suburban lawns, sprouting in the crevices of city sidewalks and covering the soil of vast, wild expanses of forest and prairie. It is so ubiquitous we barely notice it. We usually only pay attention to it when it oversteps its boundaries, when it grows too tall or invades spaces reserved for other plants and for human-made structures. We then begrudgingly mow, cut, and deracinate it, only to firmly put it out of mind until it once again defies human-defined rules and we are called upon to discipline it anew.
Finding the Plantness Within…
The Role of the Plant: from Philosophy of Nature to Environmental Ethics
Video coming soon.