Updated: Sep 4
Plants, Nature & Spirituality
Saying plants are integral to our lives, is a little like saying oxygen is key to our survival; even so, it’s a fascinating area to delve into and acknowledge their immense impact and influence. From food and medicine, to psychology and spirituality, the sheer scope of the relationship between vegetation and human existence is far, far beyond the reach of a short blog article on a pokey spiritual website. That being said, let’s get started!
I’ll begin by addressing the green elephant in the room. If you’re anything like me, your house is becoming ever more densely populated by plants by the day. Every store has a growing catalogue of houseplants to purchase, and every other window I walk past boasts a vibrant, green-fingered privacy screen. These days it seems being a plant parent is the status quo, with plant-based discussions being a frequent topic of friend and family gatherings.
I believe this, at least in part, stems from a society attempting to re-engage with nature, even as more of us than ever live within cities. Over the past few years, especially during the coronavirus Lockdowns, houseplant sales increased dramatically. People are perhaps realising just how valuable plants are to their wellbeing, both physically and mentally, and we’re even trying our hands at some domestic farming.
“Plants give us oxygen for the lungs and for the soul” – Linda Solegato
This surge in the popularity of houseplants, particularly amongst Millennials, has propagated many wonderful communities. There’s a growing number of online forums and communities all dedicated to houseplants, gardening, permaculture, and homesteading. This community spirit even extends into the offline world through Plant Swaps and Shows. So, why are they suddenly becoming so popular and why should we embrace it?
“I grow plants for many reasons: to please my eye or to please my soul, to challenge the elements or to challenge my patience, for novelty or for nostalgia, but mostly for the joy in seeing them grow” – David Hobson
Simply put, houseplants are very good for us. Some houseplants provide a psychological boost from their mere appearance, while others excel at improving air quality. Research has shown the presence of plants in offices is associated with employees being ‘more physically, cognitively, and emotionally involved in their work’. Individuals are found to be both more productive and less likely to take sick leave. With many now working from home, they have the freedom to cultivate a prosperous working environment, and, of course, the time to care for all of their new plant babies.
“There can be no other occupation like gardening in which if you were to creep up behind someone at their work, you would find them smiling” – Mirabel Osler
This resurgence of interest in the natural world has been gathering pace for a while now; of the top 50 highest rated nature documentaries ever made, 48 have been released in the past 20 years. It’s also not uncommon now to hear of allotment waiting lists of years, with some London allotments boasting a waiting list of over a decade. Many people simply want to grow their own produce, as prices increase and the presence of GMOs spreads like Japanese Knotweed, while others seek a retirement hobby or a private outdoor space in lieu of their own garden.
“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need” – Marcus Tullius Cicero
I’ll go out on a limb to say we are all becoming more aware of the amazing world all around us and discovering the vast potential of nature on our very doorstep. I see more people than ever people picking berries by the roadside and searching for mushrooms in woodland. Even as we continue to lay concrete and sterilize our environments, human nature draws us to the mud and the grass. Before we know it, we’ll be once again communicating with the spirits of the earth and trees.
I say once again, because conversing with spirits is ubiquitous in human history. It is said Shamans could speak to the spirits of plants to find the correct plant for the treatment required, a rather handy cheat sheet to have instead of learning countless varieties and applications! Ancient Egyptian Doctor-Magicians would apply mouldy bread to wounds, which means they were using penicillin to combat infection over 3,000 years before Alexander Fleming made his famous discovery; however, in lieu of scientific understanding, disease and infection were often attributed to the presence of spirits.
This belief in the spirits of diseases and plants still persists today, with Plant Spirit Medicine claiming plants have spirits with whom we can interact with. Some claim the plant itself matters not and the spirit inside can heal anything, regardless of ailment, and others believe the spirit plays a secondary role to the physical constituents of the plant.
"Shamanism is the oldest form of communicating and healing. It probably resides in all of us" - Amy Hardie
This may all seem a little crazy, until you begin to delve into the weird and wonderful ways plants function in which we don’t fully comprehend. We’ve all heard of talking nicely to your plants, and there appears to be excellent reasons for doing so. Plants respond to frequency and vibration, generally responding positively to mild vibrations and poorly to strong. If you consider the law of vibration, and that even your thoughts and emotions emit frequencies, we can start to see how communication with plants may not be all that preposterous.
We have witnessed plant life communicating with each other, such as trees transferring information through their roots and fungi in what’s known as a mycorrhizal network. They also ‘talk’ by releasing pheromones, chemicals and even gases, as seen with Acacia trees warning each other of incoming grazers. A certain plant, Arabidopsis, has been shown to hear and respond to the sound of caterpillars eating leaves. Plants also communicate via electrical signals; dandelions, when connected via copper wire, demonstrated communication via an electrical signal when under attack.
This all leaves open the door to potential communication not just within the plant kingdom, but perhaps to us as well. Fungi/mycelium facilitate communication between trees, as seen in the mycorrhizal network, and certain mushrooms and plants could feasibly act as a conduit between plants and animals. Mushrooms seem particularly suited to such a task, considering their attitude toward committing to a single kingdom.
Compounds in mushrooms, namely psilocybin, have pronounced and measurable effects on the human brain, from increasing neural connections to distorting our sense of time and altering the way our senses function. With Magic Mushroom consumption a component of shamanism, one can begin to see how their communication with plant spirits may be possible. Of course, this could all simply be the mushrooms using us to get to outer space.
"To me it begins and ends with these psychedelic substances. The synergy of the psilocybin in the hominid diet brought us out of the animal mind and into the world of articulated speech and imagination" - Terence McKenna
According to the Stoned Ape Theory, first proposed by Terrence McKenna in 1992, human evolution may have been greatly influenced by the consumption of mushrooms. Furthermore, Mushrooms may have even created the very soil in which the first plants grew on the Earth. The great terraforming of Earth through fungi, bacteria, and plants, resulting in the oxygen-rich environment in which we find ourselves today.
One of the decidedly wilder ideas out there is that ancient trees were truly massive and their fossilized remains can still be seen today. This notion is perhaps the fruit of various mythologies with giant trees, most famously the Norse tree of life Yggdrasil, but also found in folklore from Hungary and Siberia.
From tiny acorns do mighty oaks grow - English Proverb
Trees and plants are ubiquitous in our stories for the simple fact we can learn so much from them. They can grow in the most unlikely places and adapt to all kinds of conditions and changes. We see how the strong will bend in the wind rather than stand rigid and break, how when we regress, we can return even better than before, and how we can shelter and nourish those who are closest to us.
"Like wildflowers; you must allow yourself to grow in all the places people thought you never would” - E.V.
As a society, we are moving toward leading more holistic lives, through improving our health, our environment, and our spirituality. These are inexplicably intertwined, woven together throughout human history, from our current lofty heights right back to the deepest roots of civilisation.
The plant kingdom not only allows us to survive, it gives us everything we need to thrive.