THE LANGUAGE OF PLANTS
1 Plant Form
What is the magical secret which is spoken silently yet eloquently from the heart of every flower? Hidden in the undergrowth or flaunted high upon the hedgerow, a message is for ever being sounded if we could but hear it – a thousand modulations of one mighty theme.
Through the centuries Nature – above all, Plant Nature – has spoken to the heart of man, In glory of colour and individuality of from the plants speak. In the past, man listened to Nature as though in a dream; in recent centuries he has determined to become more consciously aware of her secrets. In so doing he has turned his attention especially to the inorganic world, and with the secrets wrested from this dark domain our modern life is largely fashioned. This dark domain is Pluto’s world, and from it we hear indeed the rumblings of the deep.
Where Pluto’s reigns Persephone is chained – but only, so the legend tells, for one half of the year. Modern man in his quest of Nature’s secrets has forgotten that when the plants speak to him in their living beauty of colour and form it is of another world they tell than Pluto’s realm. They tell of Persephone free, not bound.
In learning to understand living Nature as she speaks through the plant we must known the key to two worlds, the one in which Persephone is bound and also the other, where she is free. We must listen to the plant speaking from both these worlds, for the plant is indeed a synthesis of both, a creation like the rainbow poised between darkness and light. To understand this language consciously along the modern road of pure thought and scientific reasoning is not only possible but essential; it is vital for the future well-being of Nature herself and of mankind.
The plants have many qualities whereby we learn t o know them. In colour, scent and substantiality they present themselves to us, each in a different way. Above all it is by virtue of its form that the plant reveal its being, its specific character coming to expression most of all in the form of the flower.
ENFOLDING GESTURE AT THE GROWING POINT
YOUNGER AND OLDER LEAVES
What is a plant form? Often, perhaps in the very plants which gives us most joy, the form is the most changeable, transient aspect of their being. As time passes the same plant may assume many form, always recognizable yet ever changing. And the time may come when, as we look at the bare earth, we see no form at all. Yet the plant is still there, it is a seed, lost among the grains of soil, ready to spring forth true to type when the Sun is higher in the sky.
The plant lives between the darkness of earth and winter and the bright radiance of summer skies; it is ever there, never for a moment losing contact with its own individuality, yet expressing this so very differently at different times. To the winter, broadly speaking, belong the seed and the root, the unmanifest form of the plant, contracted and withdrawn into the darkness. In summer the plant-forms expand, leaf upon leaf and spreading branch in the light and air. Yet in every moment of this expanding, contraction still plays its part, at the node there is a a bud in the axil of every outspread leaf. The unmanifest form awaiting development is always there beside the unfolded form.
Goethe saw the life of the higher plants as a threefold rhythm of expansion and contraction.  First, the expansion from the seed into the leaf and leaf-bearing shoot; then the contraction into the calyx of involucre. Second, the expansion into the coloured petals, with the contraction into pistil and stamens. Third, the expansion of the fertilized ovary into the fruit, and the supreme contraction into the seed.
It is to this rhythmic life between contraction and expansion, darkness and light, that we must look, with Goethe, if we would further our understandings of the plant in a way which is true to its living nature.
2. LEAVES AT THE GROWING POINT
It is a wonderful paradox of Nature that the upward-shooting plant brings forth materials and forms which both in use and in appearance are proverbial for their radial penetrating power, yet there is little of this quality in the way they first come into being. The upright stem does not thrust its way into space like an arrow or a spearheard. The upward-growing power of the shoot is indeed one of the mightiest phenomena we know, and the eventual outcome of it is a thing of strength in the realm of earthly pressures and tensions – formed into pillar and pile, spike and ramrod for human use from ages past. Yet it was not with this earthly-radial quality that the growing shoot made its way up and outward.
Not only are they young growing tissues delicate and watery ; the same is true of nearly all living, growing things, including the downward-tending root which has indeed a radial quality of form and growth. It is not merely the delicate material ; it is the form, the gesture of the growing shoot to which we specially refer. Describing it exactly as we see it, the typical phenomena at the growing-point is the very opposite of a spearhead. What we behold at the tip of the growing shoot is concave and not convex ; it is a hollow space we nearly always see. The actual growing-point of the stem is deeply hidden amid the young enfolding leaves. Their gesture is as if to guard, there in the empty space between them, a hidden treasure with protecting hands. The youngest leaves reach upward, sometimes in pairs and very close together, sometimes in whorls forming a hollow cone, first deep and steep, thence gradually opening and flattening. Often each single leaf is concave on its inner side, making the hollow space more spherical and cup-like (see Figs. 1-9)
MORE GESTURES AT THE GROWING POINT
Leaf after leaf, whorl after whorl with further growth expands and comes away, opening more or less towards the horizontal ; meanwhile within them, other, younger buds have grown to take their place. So long as the shoot is growing, the gently guarded hollow space is there. It is a characteristic gesture that delights us, in all varieties of eloquence and beauty, all through the spring and early summer. Passing the height of summer, when we see less and less of the upward and enfolding gesture of young leaves but nearly all have opened full and flat, we know that this year’s outward growth is ending.
The concave quality of upward growth is an essential feature of the impression we receive from the green plants that bedeck the Earth around is. The plants live by the light, coming to Earth from the Sun, from cosmic spaces. Pictorially, it is as though each single shoot were reaching out to receive and hold its portion in the light. All this contribute to the peculiar feeling of freshness and buoyancy the plant-world gives us. Leaf and leaf-bearing branch, as they grow older, do indeed tend outwards a planar and even horizontally flattened form. ; yet for the most part they retain something of the up – and inward gesture. Where the leaf does not flatten to the likeliness of a planes, it is indeed not always but in the majority of cases concave on its upper ventral surface.
How characteristic this impression is, we may also tell from what we feel when it is absent, or when the ageing portions of a plant have lost it. If the plant lacks the hollow gesture altogether – like many cactus-forms for instance – it looks ungainly, quaint, and untypical amid the higher plants.
3. LEAF AND PLANE
With the unfolding of leaf and branch is associated another quality which we perceive and feel in the phenomenon of plant-life above the soil, though science hitherto has lacked the corresponding concept. The leaves, as we have said, tend to unfold towards a plane. They are, in a sens, planar organs. It is not only the crude quantitative fact that they develop a far greater surface-area than thickness ; in their whole quality, function, and morphological gesture they reveal that the character of “plane” belongs to them, just as the character of “point” belongs to every earthly object by virtue of its mass and weight – namely its centre of gravity.
We know the quality of “plane” first and foremost in the horizontal surface of the Earth around us. (Ideally, it is the tangent plane to the Earth’s sphere at the particular point where we are.) We experience it if ever we look out over a wide open plain or over the still surface of the a lake. And now in countless instances the fully opened leaves of plants – often the branches too, which bear them – make manifest this horizontal plane, or rather many parallel planes, one above the other. We see it when the sunlight falls through the young leaves in the beechwoods in May and June. A myriad planes seem to hover in the sunlit air. The impressions we thus receive from the outspreading leaves is one buoyancy and lightness. They seem to be upborne. This sense of buoyancy contributes to the feeling of life and refreshment which makes us glad to bring not only flowers but green leaves and twigs into our dwelling.
When we are looking through clear water at aquatic plants, we see the shoots buoyed up by the surrounding element and can interpret the phenomena by the well-known law of hydrostatics. Yet for our vision and spatial feeling there is undeniably a like quality of buoyancy – even a stronger, more active one – about the upward striving and outspreading gesture of the terrestrial plants, through there is here no dense material element which in the Archimedean sense would relieve them of their weight. These are again the pure phenomena for which we shall be seeking the ideal counterpart, the interpretation.
4. “CONVEX AND CONCAVE” IN THE FORMS OF GROWTH
The full significance of the concave gesture of leaves at the growing-point will dawn upon us if we compare the higher plants with other forms of life, both in the vegetable and in the animal kingdom. Life has its origin and home in the watery element and manifests itself in growth. The primary and simplest form is a sphere, living in a watery medium, filled with watery or semi-fluid living substance and differentiated from its surroundings by some form of skin or surface-layer. The living sphere grows, drinking in water and other substances at the expense of its surroundings. This is the primary phenomenon of convex, outward growth. We find it in the microscopic, cellular organization of all living and growing things, including of course the higher plant – root, shoot and leaf without exception. But the cellular growth is here subservient to macroscopic forms of life, visible to the naked eye and more significantly diverse.
Every material body must ipso facto be predominantly convex towards the surrounding world, for it must be contained within a finite radius and volume. A living body therefore takes its start from the simplest of convex forms – the more or less spherical shape of the seed or germ-cell – and in its outline as a whole, whatever hollowing and folds, ramification, incisions, and excrescences it may involve, it must ave something of the self-containedness of a finite convex form. So has the tree for example, which when we see it in winter-time shows very beautifully its convex outline, though this is formed by myriads of twigs and branches through which we see the sky (Fig 13.). In effect, convex though it must be in this sense, being a thing in the material world, the higher living organism reveals the interplay of an opposite, a concave principle of form. Yet the way in which it does so is profoundly different in the plant and in the animal kingdom.
In the animal, it is the well-known principle of gastrulation – invagination. In the lower animals where the simplest archetype of this process is revealed, the primary, spherical form of growth, the blastula, is hollowed from one end and folded in upon itself. In the resulting gastrula the original interior of the sphere – known as the segmentation-cavity or “blastocoele” – has now become the space confines and often more or less obliterated between the outer and inner folds,, while a new hollow space, the “enteron” is formed within the latter. This kind of “invagination” – the turning-outside-in, the hollowing of original convex forms – is repeated again and again in the course of animal development and embryology. To a great extent the complex and yet closely knit animal body, with its internal organs, its convolutions and membranes folded back upon themselves, is by such means produces.
The plant appears the very opposite of this. Its essence is to grow ever outward. Yet here too, in the shoot, a concave principle of growth reveals itself, as we have seen. But this concavity tends in the opposite direction. It is not like the dark and inward process of invagination. Out in the light and air, even by the upward and outward growth of the young leaves, a hollow space is formed at the tip of the growing shoot ; deeply and closely enfolded as it so often is, yet it is only formed to be progressively unfolded. In fact the plant-shoot lives and grows – if we may coin this expression – by a perpetual process rather of e-vagination. Such is its characteristic.
The higher plant does not shoot forth with a mere earthly-thriving life, sending forth spherical or elongated organs that would seem merely to thrust their way outward into space. (Such indeed is the form of growth of many of the lower plants – the fungi and to some extent thte algae.) It reaches outward to a hollow space, which it then gives away as it unfolds. We only fail to recognize this because the hollow space seems empty ; as it were, there is nothing to unfold from. When the animals infolds its gastrula – forming its Urdarm as Haeckel called it, its archetypal stomach or intestine – we know at once what this signifies, for into such an organ food, for example, will be ingested. But when the plant – which, as we know, gives more than it takes in the economy of life – pours out as it were the hollow space which it at first enfolded with such tender care, nothing is there to see bu t the surrounding light-filled air, and it requires ans awakened insight to relate this very characteristic morphological gesture to the prime function of the green plants, which is to bestow life-giving oxygen and also nutritive substance both on themselves and on all other earthly creatures.
5. UNFOLDING GROWTH AND PLASTIC OUTLINE
The synthesis of concave and convex upward- and downward-opening forms belongs to the peculiar magic of the higher plant, both herb and tree. The characteristic outline of a pine-tree – A Norway spruce for example – is of a cone widening downward from the apex, more or less dark and opaque against the sky (Fig 13). Yet in the process and form of growth by which it comes into being we see the opposite: a hollow cone that opens upward – a gesture that begins already with the seedling and is repeated again and again in leaf and branch. This is a simple emblem of a more universal phenomenon. The opening from a deep hollow sphere or cone – characteristic of the youngest leaves and branches – expanding and flattening from thence towards the horizontal (Fig.4), which simultaneously the apex of the stem and the plant’s outline as w hole grows forth and outward to form a sphere – or one-form, convex and as a rule widening downward from the apex: such is the growth of the plant in process and in outcome.
In the herbaceous plants with their more open growth the “outline as a whole” is often less in evidence, but the same principle will appear in the inflorescence, the development of which, as Goethe shows, involves an element of condensation – of contraction. We see the manifold, more or less closely packed inflorescences, conical as in the lupin, or spherical as in clover or hydrangea, or even more closely knit as in the composite family. Each single flower still has the cup – or tube – like form, only the infloresence as a whole is convex. Yet the latter too was in its early stages deeply hidden – a mass of buds down in the hollow of protecting leaves. Thence it emerged, shooting up- and outward.
We may apply to this aspect of the growth of plants the ancient symbol of two interlacing – triangles – Solomon’s seal – only we must change it from a dead static form into a functional, dynamic image. Multiply the upward-ope triangle – we have the gesture of the growing leaves and branches. The single downward triangle typifies the form of the plant as a whole. A s two-dimensional image, this is already the type of many leaves with their triangular shape and spreading veins. Rotated about the vertical axis, we have the twofold cone-form, as i the pine (Fig 13).
6 ROOT AND SHOOT
All that we commonly see of the plants around us are the leaf – and flower bearing shoots; the roots are mostly hidden – do not become “phenomenon” until we dig them up. This too is significant, and it is not without meaning that Goethe the great pheonomenalist, who derived so much of his perception from the sense of sight, says little of the root. The individual essence of the plant is manifested far more in the shoot; down in the dark community of Mother Earth, there is not only the “mychorrhizal” but there are many other “associations”; this is farm more of a common sphere of life. So too the botanist learns from the character of roots in general, bu the roots tell him far less – comparatively speaking – about the individual character of one plant or another . We base our classification first and foremost on the flower, to a lesser extent on the leaf-bearing shoot, and lest of all on the root.
Yet we must contemplate the plant as a whole – root and shoot – even to shed fuller light upon the form and gesture of the shoot itself. At the ground-level-the region commonly known as the “hypocotyl”,  where the root passes over into the shoot – the plant is drawn together: here the cross-section is comparatively small (Fig 10) (Plate III). Thence it expands – downward and upward, but in very different ways. Upward as we have seen, the plant achieves is expanded space by a concave, enveloping, embracing form of growth. Even the ultimately radial and convex forms – most prominent in the tree, which becomes most earthly – come into being by means of this other mode of growth, the form and gesture of which predominates in many a herbaceous plant throughout its life. 
Downward on the other hand into the root, the growth is truly radial from the beginning, and this is fitting, since the root enters far more deeply into the earthly realm. The root-tip pushes its way through the soil: the living, growing point (the so-called meristem) is covered by a root-cap, so that it comes to no harm through this method of penetrating the earth. The primary earthy-mechanical forces are radial – that is to say, working along a line from one point to another, wherefore out engineering structures so often take the form of a network of girders, “struts and ties”. Taproot reaching vertically downward, or wide and ramifying system, the very form of the root suggests its adaptation to a realm in which the material and earthly forces are most at home (Fig 14: see also Fig. 65).
We find a corresponding difference between stem and root in internal structure. Thus at the hypocotyl there is a peculiar interchange of what is inner and outer.  The concave and enveloping tendency of the shoot also finds expression in the cylindrical character of the stem,, which if not actually hollow, develops its essential organs, vascular bundles and cambium, in a cylinder around the pith or woody trunk. It is from this outer enveloping portion of the stem that the side=shoots spring. In the primary root on the other hand the vascuclar system is internal, forming a central core, and the lateral roots spring from this inner region, forcing their way through the outer layers (Fig 10).
7. RADIAL BELOW, ENVELOPING ABOVE
Sometimes a craftsman makes a wineglass form of cup or chalice rather like and emblem of this twofold nature of the plant perhaps suggested by it. The slender stem must be supported on a wider base, and if this is chased and moulded on a more radial pattern as it often is, we have the dual form in question – radial below, enveloping above (Fig 16).
But the plant-shoot is a plastic, ever-changing growth – at least until it comes to flower. It forms the gesture of a chalice, as we have seen, only to open it out, forming another cup within the first. So it repeats the process, rhythmically, node by node (Figs. 11, 12). Moreover it can only do this in as much as the older nodes are progressively thickened and strengthened, so as to bear the younger and more delicate portion of the shoot ever upward. The lower portions of the stem partly take on the supporting function of the root; they act as mediators between the actual root and the younger more living organs. To some extent there pertains to every node a modicum of the same function which belongs to hypcotyl. How easily, in many plants, the node reveals this potentiality; transplanted under the right conditions, it will develop roots as well as shoot.
Thus the dual relationship rhythmicized and repeated. Botanists have compared the “morphological polarity” of the plant to the the polarity of a magnet; the analogy is of course unsatisfying, for there is not enough qualitative difference between the north-and-south seeking poles. In the next chapter we shall see how a far more qualitative, morphologically true polarity may be discerned. For the moment, however, accepting the rough-and-ready picture, we may recall how a bar-magnet can be broken ever so many times along its length; each fragment will reveal the same polarity as the original whole. Moreover, given the opportunity, they will attract each other, end to end, tending to restore the whole both in form and function. Potentially it is as though the single magnet were already divided into ever so many partial magnets, all along its length. Something like this is the plant, but in a far more living way- with the caesuras marked not by arbitrary breaking, rather by rhythmic integration.
8. CUP WITHIN CUP
It follows therefore that the upward-opening and concave gesture by which a lower portion, rooted int eh ground, carries the upper like a cup or chalice, pertains not only to the plant as a whole but is at least potentially repeated from node to node, cup within cup. Often, however, this relationship would only become visible if, so to speak, in the mind’s eye we could add a time-dimension – if we could quickly and imaginatively follow the life of the plant backward in time and see the opened leaves at the lower nodes returning to their erstwhile geture.
If this be a true reading, we shall expect to find that in some plants at least it becomes pheonomena. Indeed the cup-within-cup, hollow-within-hollow quality is very often in evidence. On a rather primitive level it appears in the peculiar segmentation of the equisetum-shoot, each segment springing from within the serrated leaf-sheath of the last. We see it in the habit of the grasses, where the lower potion of each leaf forms a sheath about the stem – or about the sheaths of younger leaves – reaching far up to where the ligule is. We see it too in the frequent tendency of the based of the petriole or leaf-stalk to envelop the parent stem, so that each internode of the latter grows out of an embracing parent stem, so that each internode of teh latter grows out of an embracing hollow. Most eloquent, where a pair of opposite leaves arises at each node, are the connate forms such as we find in certain leaves of honeysuckle, or as a deep vessel in the teasel. (Figs 81, 87, 88).
It is an archetypal – this tendency of each successive shoot or internode to spring from within a hollow sphere, borne by the last. Only the extent to which it is revealed, varies from plant to plant; sometime there is little outward sign. In the Woodruff (Fig. 7) this typical growth-process is beautifully revealed.
Very typical in this connection are the plants – like Daisy, Dandelion, even Plantain – where a tall flower-bearing stem springs from a rosette of leaves at the hypocotyl. Though older leaves may be lying flat against the ground, such as rosette, taken as a whole, nearly always has a concave and embracing gesture, as if towards an ideal sphere into the focus of which the flower grows. What this type of plant shows as it grows from the earth, revealing a hollow cone or bowl or saucer of green leaves, out of which spring the flowering stems, others transform in to a repeated rhythmic process. It is then a rhythmic process, which the flower at the top of the stem brings to a close. The flower cup is final, for then a quite new process sets in, leading to fruit and seed (Figs. 15, 17).
9. THE FLOWER”S CHALICE
At the tip of a vegetative shoot the nodes and internodes are crowded together ; often the leaves of man nodes combine to enfold the hollow space above the growing-point. Internodes lengthen out quickly as the plant shoots upward, but at the tip a younger sequence of unfolding leaves maintains the form (Plate XIII).
When in its further development the plant comes to flower, the gesture of a hollow and enfolded space is all the more enhanced. The changing of foliage into flower-leaves goes hand in hand with a relative cessation of upward growth ; many potential internodes are whorled together and cease to lengthen out. The flower-bud enwraps a space more tightly closed, and when we see it open to a flower it is as though the space were now poised in silence. What the growing tip of the vegetative shoot suggested in an ever-changing form – in an enfolded space, ever unfolded and renewed from within – this is now brought to rest in the flower-chalice, maintained as long as the blossom lasts. And in this “chalice”, something hitherto unmanifest about the plant is now revealed, not in the form and pattern of the flower, by which the classifying botanist mostly discerns the individuality and type of plant, and above all in colour, texture, fragrance. Once is inclined to say : if the hollow space tended by the young unfolding leaves, going before the apex of the stem as it grew upward, was not just emptiness but had a deeper meaning, its presence indicating a real sphere of forces scientifically still to be designed, then in the flower something more of this ideal space has been made visible. What hitherto induced the upward and unfolding growth, yet in its quality remaining latent, has now revealed its essence in another way. The material, sense-perceptible part of the plants has united with it more deeply than hitherto (Plate XV).
The flower, too, often unfolds its petals to a plane or even turns them back. Again, the hollow ma be deeply exaggerated to a bell or tube, or sundry forms of nectary and spur. Yet in the main the cup-like form – in every degree of openness – is the most frequent and to imagination the most typical. If we have watched the enfolding and unfolding gesture of the green leaf-bearing shoot, our feeling of the flower-forms significance is all the more enhanced.
10. THE FRUIT: GOETHE’S THIRD EXPANSION
In our description we have now followed tow of the three Goethean cycles of expansion. One: the unfolding of successive leaves and leaf-bearing side-shoots form the hollow space above the stem-tip – tiny at first, already adumbrated in the relation of cotyledon and plumule, and then expanding, undergoing variation, yet in essential quality remaining contant. Two : the unfolding of the flower-bud and calyx. When at long last the flower-bud unfolds, the new expansion in its purely spatial, quantitative aspect is as a rule less lavish and less free; it is an opening rather of glory, a showing-forth of the plant’s individual essence and essential beauty. Such is the second expansion – no mere variation but a true “metamorphosis”, in quality quite different from the first.
When we now come to Goethe’s third and last expansion – the swelling of the fruit – we find en even greater change. Now for the first time the higher plant, in the shoot, attains a predominantly convex from of growth (Fig. 15). It is as though the hollow sphere, hitherto so immaterial, its presence only indicated by the enfolding leaves or by the cup-like gesture of the flower, were now for the first time to be filled with substance. For at this third expansion it is no empty, airy space that opens out, nor does the plant extend its body merely one-or-two dimensionally as in the slender forms of stem and leaf, but now the sap and growing tissues fill the whole volume of the fruit. We have the typical sphere-form of the apple or its equivalent in many variations. Heavily laden, the shoots that hitherto reached upward, bearing the hollow space at the growing-point or the fragile flower, are now weighed down with their fruity burden. Or the fruits harden into capsules, typical three dimensional forms reminiscent rather of the mineral kingdom, or like strong ornamental caskets made by human hand.
This is again the enriching paradox of the life of plants through the summer season. From delicate and unsubstantial forms, now with amazing quickness is produced the earthly store of fruit and grain, to be weighed and garnered.
11. THE SPATIAL MATRIX OF PLANT LIFE
There is another most elementary morphological aspect of plant life. Goethe saw it as the interplay of a vertical tendency with a spiral tendency in vegetative growth; it is in the realm also of what Ernst Haeckel once called “Promorphologie”.  Every tangible entity in Nature is in the three-dimensional world.; if then a living body has any regularity of pattern it will make manifest not only its own particular nature but also some aspect of the structure of space as such. If we now ask, to what aspect of spatial structure does the higher plant mainly belong, we are led to Goethe’s vertical and peripheral relation.
The crystal-mineral world reveals two great types of spatial form. One is the triaxial, that is to say, typically three-dimension. Three axes meet in any given centre. They may be at right angles and of equal length and function, as in the “cubical” system; crystals of this kind will be most simply related to the prevailing laws of universal space and movement. Or the three aces may be of diverse length and even with the angles diversely inclined other crystal systems are the outcome. But side by side with this there is a different type – the hexagonal and trigonal. Here there is one main axis, perpendicular to which there is a plane – or sequence of parallel planes – containing not two but three further aces, at equal angles to 60 degrees to one-another. Rock-crystal (quartz) and tourmaline are typical examples.
The type of space here shown, with its single axis and series of planes at right angles thereto, is archetypally related to the rotational and spiral forms of movement (rotation about the single axis, which, if translation along the axis is added, will produce a screw-spiral movement). It is symptomatic that the crystal of silica – one of the most universal of earthly substances – does actually beget this form of movement, for when polarized light is passed through it in the axial direction, the plane of polarization is spirally rotated. Moreover, s among climbing plants there are those that form left-handed spirals and others right-handed, so there left- and right-handed quartz crystals.
It is surely significant that the plant belongs to this axial, rotational form of space. Think for a moment of the most undifferentiated spatial form – the sphere. Though it is deeply related to the three-dimensional structure of space, no particular axial directions are singled out; it does not matter in what direction we begin if, say , we wish to circumscribe a cube about it. But as soon as we bring the sphere into rotation, if only for a single moment, we most rotate it about a particular axis, immediately, as on a geographical globe, this axis and the planes of latitude at right angles to it emerge, governing the whole structure.
Our Universe abounds in rotational forms of movement; for the Earth these find expression in the daily, yearly and other periodic rhythms and in the apparent circling movements of the heavenly bodies around us. The plant, of all earthly creations the one that most expands towards the Universe and takes its life and time from thence, belongs precisely to this form of space. The significance of this is all the more enhanced when with the help of modern Geometry our concept of the underlying form is deepened.
The normal plant is rooted in the earth; its only movement are the slow and silent ones of growth. Yet through the days and nights and seasons it is ever surrounded bu the circling movement of the moon and planet, of the sun and stars,. It rises towards the zenith and unfolds its leaves to the horizon, mostly in regular and spiral sequence. It is at rest amid an ocean of circling movement; only the mathematical regularity of its pattern and form of growth is of the circling and spiral type. Or are the delicate nutational movements of the growing-point also significant in this connection? Every now and then, in abnormal forms of growth, it is a thought the “spiritual staff” were to lose its silent power ; growth is caught up as if into a vortex. Such for example is the valerian plant, of which a picture is included in some edition of Goethe’s work. (Fig. 76, paragraph 44).
Let us known look once more at the three stages of growth and development. In the higher as against the lower plant, it is as though there were a focus of life and growth which is not immediately claimed by the material, watery-earthly body The plant tends upward to this focus, enveloping it with its green leaves, which unfold and come away from it in turn. The flower then envelopes it more closely, no longer growing outward and away but pausing, and at the same time seeming to come into a nearer relation with whatsoever has bee hidden here – making int manifest in colour, form and beauty. Yet still the hollow space remains; the inner focus has not yet been claimed. Only when the flowering process and with it the “fertilization” is complete, does the fertilized ovary grow right up into the living focus, or draw the virtue of it down into its substance. Now comes the third expansion; this at long last is material, three-dimensional, filled from within-growth at this stage is convex.
The plant has waited till this third stage to claim for its material life and body what is has hitherto left free and open. And when we contemplate the whole sequence of these phenomena, we see that to this waiting, this refraining, it owes its light and airy beauty. When at long last it comes to fruit an seed, uniting its earthly substance with the ideal sphere which until now it left untouched, the outcome is a greater fragrance and individual variety of substance that is afforded by the flower and more rapidly fulfilled forms of life.
In the flower, the ovary, containing the ovules, is an enclosing, green cavity; above or around it, the petals open, forming the beautiful coloured hollow, with the stamen within it, their anther bearing the pollen. It is usual in the higher plant for the pollen to ripen in the air and sunshine. The pollen-grain is at the very summit of the plant’s achievement as it strives upward to the light. The plant has raised a tiny particle of its living matter into the realm of the corolla, destined to become the bearer of the most vital fores. Fertilization is effected in many ways, but in principle it is always the same : it is the union of the essential content of of the pollen-grain with the ovule. In the moment of union of these two realms the rhythmic process of unfoldment will no longer take place. For a time, in the seed, the life lies, secretly, silent and inert with the spring sunshine it will stir again. Persephone will arise. In the moist Earth, warmed and irradiated by the light of the Sun, the seed will germinate, root and shoot will grow forth again. The plant will speak once more.
This article was an excerpt from the rare book , specifically Chapter 1 of Plant between the Sun and Earth by George Adams and Olive Whicher.
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