‘I’m In Love With A Tree! It’s The Best Sex I Ever Had!’

2015 03 23 woman falls in love with tree

Careful, Emma. With all this publicity, Tim could get pretty poplar in that neck of the woods.

This photo of a story from the UK junk tabloid Closer has been making the internet rounds, prompting many to speculate on Tim’s prowess compared to Groot’s . . .

2015 03 23 Groot - for woman falls in love with tree

Actually, Closer does go so far as to (allegedly) get a clinical psychologist to say that Ms. McCabe has “condition known as dendrophilia.” Dr. Mark Griffiths, Chartered Psychologist and Professor of Gambling Studies at the Nottingham Trent University, has posted A Beginner’s Guide to Dendrophilia which discusses how the term dendrophilia “has now been adopted by some in the sexology field to refer to those who have a fetishistic or paraphilic interest in trees.”

So it is a thing. Huh.

2015 03 23 cucumber better than man

Artist Uses Dead Bees as Raw Material

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Plant Intelligence is in a mutually affective ecology with bees (some might call it love). Check out this visual elegy by Sarah Hatton, conceived in response to the loss of bees she was keeping and in support of banning neonicotinoid pesticides in North America.

Planting a Clock That Tracks Hours by Flowers

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The Horologium Florae, or floral clock: “The professionals said it could not be done. They had never tried it, and they didn’t know any public garden that had tried it, and they wouldn’t recommend anyone else give it a try.”

“Flower opening has inspired many artists and seems of special emotional value to people,” write the sober scientists of the Journal of Experimental Botany. Support for their suggestion, writes Michael Tortorello in the NYT, rests in the sentimental British garden journals of the early 19th century, where the flower clock inspired some marvellously bad poetry:

Broad o’er its imbricated cup,

The goat’s-beard spreads its golden rays,

But shuts its cautious petals up,

Retreating from the noontide blaze.”

Now, readers of the Plant Intelligence Project will know that questions around the emotional value of plant behaviour, and of whether stuff like the above is bad poetry is are what I like to go on about (see my essay, whenever the eff it finally appears, on Shelley’s “The Sensitive Plant”).

But Tortorello’s article (thanks Brian Bacchus, for sending it to me) appears just a day after I finished reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s recent novel The Signature of All Things (Penguin, 2013), in which she keeps alive the idea of timekeeping flowers:

In her ninth summer, completely on her own, Alma learned to tell time by the opening and closing of flowers. At five o’clock in the morning, she noticed, the goatsbeard petals always unfolded. At six o’clock, the daisies and globeflowers opened. When the clock struck seven, the dandelions would bloom. At eight o’clock, it was the scarlet pimpernel’s turn. Nine o’clock: chickweed. Ten o’clock: meadow saffron. By eleven o’clock the process begins to reverse. . . . What Alma wanted to know most of all was how the world was regulated. What was the master clockwork behind everything? (p. 63)

Tortorello notes that “the poetry of the flower clock continues to grip the imagination.” He finds a few recent references but notes that “three authors do not make a trend.”

Gilbert makes four. And me, I suppose, makes five.

Read Your Flowers

2015 02 14 Read Your Flowers - Paris Review

Giving flowers may be older than written history, but these language of flowers systems were an invention of Victorian gift book culture. There is no ‘ancient lore’ by which these flowers get these meanings, only the wisdom of some savvy marketing-to-tween-young-ladies booksellers in the 1800s. Courtesy of The Paris Review.

Frida Kahlo at the New York Botanical Garden

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Coming up in May: Kahlo’s first exhibition in New York City for 10 years will focus on her relationship with nature and be set in the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx.

“One of the most important paintings in the show is Kahlo’s 1931 portrait of botanist inventor Luther Burbank, who is credited with developing more than 800 varieties of plants. Kahlo paints him sprouting from the ground, a plant in his hand and his bottom half depicted as a tree. The painting can be read politically, Zavala says: ‘This work was at the top of my list, not only because of its subject matter but because Kahlo creates an extraordinary human/plant hybrid – it reflects her thinking and beliefs in 1931, a time when the mixing of species was anathema in places like Germany.’” (Burbank also wrote a tome on child-rearing called “The Training of the Human Plant.”)

I’d never before thought of Kahlo as an artist for critical plant studies attention but this show looks like it may change that. I hope I get to see it.

Details of the Kahlo exhibit here.

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Rapey Plant Stories and the Challenge to Darwinian Ideas About Gender

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I laughed when I first read that in late 18th-century Western Europe, people worried that studying botany, which focused the attention on all those plants fertilizing one another, was too racy a pursuit for proper young ladies. Now I think we have yet, even in the 21st century, to really grapple with how plant being challenges our basic assumptions about sexuality.

Do male plants rape females as a means of propagating the species? That’s the analogy that Dan Janzen used in 1977 when he applied Darwinian-based models of animal behaviour to plants.

Take a look at this thought-provoking article by Jeremy Yoder, postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Plant Biology at the University of Minnesota, who writes about how scientific theories of sexual selection, themselves originally based in human analogy, have ended up reframing not only stories of animal and human sexuality but also our understanding of plant reproduction.

Thanks to Eric Michael Johnson for passing this along.

Guerrilla Grafters Secretly Graft Fruit-Bearing Branches onto San Francisco Trees


City officials contend that Guerrilla Grafters are breaking the law, but their actions have been celebrated by proponents of urban agriculture. And they have been included in the US pavilion’s Spontaneous Interventions exhibit at the Venice Biennale.”

You know that somewhere a lawyer is figuring out who owns any resulting fruit.

Us and Us

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Read the script of this episode of Cosmos with Carl Sagan.

Australian Ecopoetics Past, Present, Future: What Do the Plants Say?

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“In what follows, I will be guided by my own green biases and botanical proclivities. To foot-slog a swathe through the intricate ground of Australian ecopoetics, I will don chlorophyll-streaked glasses – will listen closely to what the plants say.”

Over at the Cordite Poetry Review, John Charles Ryan uses Marder’s plant-thinking to suggest where environmentally-engaged poetry in Australia is headed.

“A postcolonial ecopoetics of plants is about paying attention – and learning how to listen, a process whereby the botanical becomes a lens for the literary, rather than vice versa.”

‘Fractal Poetics’: A rose is a leaf is a rose is a leaf

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“Before Benoit Mandelbrot’s fractal mathematics and Gertrude Stein’s roses, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote about a primal plant, “Urpflanze,” which was constructed as a leaf within a leaf within a leaf. I wonder if his Platonic vision for this plant, from which all other plants derived, was an early imagining of fractal mathematics and response to fractal forms in the natural world (coast lines, human migration patterns, Romanesco broccoli).”

Read the rest of Amy Catanzano’s article on fractals, feminist philosophy, and models of poetic form at Jacket2.