Archive for April, 2013

I’m Taking a Break – for #Canada150

A word about lichen at le Biosphère, an Environment Canada museum in the old US pavilion of Expo67

A word about lichen at le Biosphère, an Environment Canada museum in the old US pavilion of Expo67

I have somehow, by the grace of all that makes plants grow tall and souls grow wise, been contracted to do some amazing work documenting Canadian popular sentiment. I’ve been named the “Artist-In-Motion” for the 2017StartsNow project hosted by the CBC-Radio Canada, Via Rail and Community Foundations of Canada.

I won’t be posting at The Plant Intelligence Project for a while because I’ll be busy maintaining You can read about my role in the 2017 Starts Now project here. I will be working on the blog and the #2017poem #2017poème until the end of June.

Here is a picture of the lichen informational exhibit at the Biosphere in Montréal. Just because I’m doing #Canada150 doesn’t mean I have forgotten you, plants that support us!


Do Plants Love Metal? Further Study Required


According to Dean Krawchuk, Sarah Hunter, Esther Roy-Cloutier and Bronwyn Berg, who presented at the Plant Intelligence Project’s final exhibit last night, the plant on the right had been exposed to death metal and the one on the left has been exposed to “happy songs.”

Their results are interesting in light of recent comments by UK garden guru Chris Beardshaw, who contends that a bit of Black Sabbath can make for sturdier stems. Classical, he found, made for “slightly more floriferous” plants and those exposed to the stylings of Cliff Richard curled up their leaves and bit it.

But the studies aren’t necessarily contradictory: Black Sabbath doesn’t really qualify as death metal. My students feel they’d need, as the Bradshaw study had, a control group before commenting on the meaning of their work’s results. In any case I’d venture that whether or not a plant digs Sabbath has less to do with its species than with the culture it grew up in.

Three images of the Ecopsychology group presentation at the Plant Intelligence Project
Alternator Gallery, Kelowna April 19 2013 (student artists as listed above).

Tuning In to Thirsty Trees


“Trees Call for Help—And Now Scientists Can Understand,” is how National Geographic has titled Gabe Popkin’s story on French scientists having captured the ultrasonic noise made by bubbles forming inside water-stressed trees.

The other day, upon learning about my work, someone told me: “You know, trees scream when they’re stressed.” I do indeed: but even I think there’s a bit of anthropomorphizing going on here.

I  hesitate to think of plants as “calling out” for help because when we decide to call for help, we could also decide not to. The cavitation process and “acoustic events” described by Alexandre Ponomarenko don’t sound particularly decision-oriented to me.

But then, I give a little more thought to screaming: the kind of call that one can’t repress, the absolute reaction of the organism to pain, the spontaneous reaction of babies to stresses. We learn to control these only because we’ve developed social systems where a well-phrased request can actually benefit us more than the scream that raises the alarm in all our surrounding human organisms. Who’s to say all speech isn’t some form of aaaaaiiiieeee!?

This Is A Community Too


This image made the rounds of my social media world a week ago (while I was just getting over defending my PhD! yay!). It came to me via my animal studies friend Jodey Castricano, and has been shared, including by an Idle No More facebook page, over 1680 times.

I’m very interested in the way that environmental activism, indigenous rights activism and Western poetry overlap in their moments of forwarding a vision of the world that has been called ‘animist,’ or anthropomorphizing – basically a vision that suggests seeing non-human nature as having a kind of sensitive, responsive interdependence.

I’m interested in this overlap most because Western culture has a story of itself as rationalist and a story of animism as being primitive, non-European, pagan, New Age etc. Of course, what we call animism is part of a number of worldviews that tie spirituality to cycles of nature, many of which can be easily found in the histories of Western European cultures. Is it possible that a “rational” Western culture has returned to seeing non-animal nature as communicative and responsive? Seems to me many of us have; what was once considered New Age woo-woo is confirmed by our god, Science. That’s part of the story we tell here at the Plant Intelligence Project.

If we already do see non-animal nature as communicative and responsive, then what stands in the way of making policies and doing business in ways that respect our interdependence with plant and animal communities?

The infrastructures we have built without that respect seem so much bigger than each of us individually. I drive my car to work to write nature poems; I sign up to big cable to get my internet connection; I eat meat. It was actually easier to eat more veggies and not drive when I lived in a big urban centre than living an an agricultural community. Argh, the convenience monster. Argh, habits.

As a kid I never understood racism because it seemed so silly, so not like grown-ups, to not like someone just because of their skin colour or the language they spoke. I now understand racism, at least within a nation’s own boundaries, as a shorthand for feeling entitled to one’s conveniences: a plantation, a railway, a mall, a pipeline. The comments of the former NDP (!) candidate in my riding come to mind. It was never really about colour. It was never about facial features or language. It was always ever about power: about some humans deciding to master nature on a large scale wanting to distance themselves from those who would be made to serve their purpose.

Okay, depressing. But then: the planet quite naturally has registered our disrespect to plants. We see the global consequences of missing forests. Perhaps what hope there is around how to change our own habits, or learn new ways of inhabiting power, comes from the models of solidarity, interdependence, community and passive resistance that we are learning from plant communities.


tiny grass is dreaming
Sweet dreams!

What Plants Talk About on PBS Wed (tmrw) 8 p.m.

Nature - What Plants Talk About

Not trying to psych you out if you tried to press play. The Plant Intelligence Project is ghetto media for now: i.e. no $ for video embedding. Not that you’d be able to see anything if you pressed play from Canada anyway! We’re blocked.

For those of you in the U.S., University of Alberta professor J.C. Cahill will be discussing plant behaviour and communication on an episode of Nature tomorrow night at 8 p.m. eastern on PBS. Wish we could see it here 😦 Thanks Paul Marck for the heads up.

Untitled (Bonsai), 2013 by Martin Roth at Louis B. James

Untitled (Bonsai), 2013

Untitled (Bonsai), 2013

Thanks to Brooklyn-based multidisciplinary artist Krista Dragomer for the heads-up on this neat show by Martin Roth on now at the Louis B. James Gallery in New York.

“For his second solo exhibition at Louis B. James, Martin Roth presents a new installation, Untitled (Bonsai). The work consists of a single bonsai tree in the upper level of the gallery space, situated within of a complex soundscape orchestrated uniquely for the houseplant.

“For his new installation, Roth takes meticulous care to provide the bonsai plant with the ideal soundscape in which to grow. Two speakers pointed at the bonsai emit a live feed of a chorus of animals and insects. The artist uses environmental sounds, provided by pet shop creatures, to create a simulated habitat for a tree that—due to its constant need of care—could be considered nearer to a pet than a plant.

“Above all, Roth’s work accentuates the multi-layered relationship between animals and plants, as well as their connection to human culture, while delicately playing with the balance of nature and artificiality. Roth’s work consistently renegotiates the boundary between art and life, inside and outside, and nature and culture, bringing to mind the musical installations of Céleste Boursier-Mougenot, the chance-based operations of John Cage, and the metaphorical parables of Francis Alÿs.”

The show runs until April 13.