The Secret Life of Plants
Curated by Allie Bashuk, photography by Sonny Pimentel, modeled by Angelina Hoyos
The first in our Collections series, Withal invited Allie Bashuk – artist, advocate, and former Scoutmob curator – to imagine a world for some of her favorite Withal products. With photographer Sonny Pimentel, model Angelina Hoyos, and an abandoned greenhouse, Allie curated this beautiful collection and photo series, inspired by Tompkins' and Bird's 1973 book, The Secret Life of Plants.
Short of Aphrodite, there is nothing lovelier on this planet than a flower, nor more essential than a plant. The true matrix of human life is the greensward covering mother earth. Without green plants we would neither breathe nor eat. On the undersurface of every leaf, a million movable lips are engaged in devouring carbon dioxide and expelling oxygen. All together, 25 million square miles of leaf surface are daily engaged in this miracle of photosynthesis, producing oxygen and food for man and beast.
Instinctively aware of the aesthetic vibrations of plants, which are spiritually satisfying, human beings are happiest and most comfortable when living with flora. At birth, marriage, death, blossoms are prerequisites, as they are at mealtime or festivities.We give plants and flowers as tokens of love, of friendship, or homage, and of thanks for hospitality. Our houses are adorned with gardens, our cities with parks, our nations with national preserves. The first thing a woman does to make a room livable is to place a plant in it or a vase of fresh cut flowers.
Aristotle’s dogma that plants have souls but no sensation lasted through the Middle Ages and into the eighteenth century, when Carl von Linne, grandfather of modern botany, declared that plants differ from animals and humans only in their lack of movement, a conceit which was shot down by the great nineteenth-century botanist Charles Darwin, who proved that every tendril has its power of independent movement. As Darwin put it, plants 'acquire and display this power only when it is of some advantage to them.'
At the beginning of the twentieth century a gifted Viennese biologist with the Gallic name of Raoul France put forth the idea, shocking to contemporary natural philosophers, that plants move their bodies as freely, easily, and gracefully as the most skilled animal or human, and that the only reason we don’t appreciate the fact is that plants do so at a much slower pace than humans.
The roots of plants, said France, burrow inquiringly into the earth, the buds and twigs swing in definite circles, the leaves and blossoms bend and shiver with change, the tendrils circle questingly and reach out with ghostly arms to feel their surroundings. Man, said France, merely thinks plants motionless and feelingless because he will not take the time to watch them.
Poets and philosophers such as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Rudolf Steiner, who took the trouble to watch plants, discovered that they grow in opposite directions, partly burrowing into the ground as if attracted by gravity, partly shooting up into the air as if pulled by some form of antigravity, or levity.
Wormlike rootlets, which Darwin likened to a brain, burrow constantly downward with thin white threads, crowding themselves firmly into the soil, tasting it as they go. Small hollow chambers in which a ball of starch can rattle indicate to the root tips the direction of the pull of gravity.
When the earth is dry, the roots turn toward moister ground, finding their way into buried pipes, stretching, as in the case of the lowly alfalfa plant, as far as forty feet, developing an energy that can bore through concrete. No one has yet counted the roots of a tree, but a study of a single rye plant indicates a total of over 13 million rootlets with a combined length of 380 miles. On these rootlets of a rye plant are fine root hairs estimated to number some 14 billion with a total length of 6,600 miles, almost the distance from pole to pole.
The above text is from the introduction to Peter Tompkins' and Christopher Birds' 1973 book, The Secret Life of Plants.