building a beautiful and bountiful world in collaboration with nature

Posts tagged ‘plants’

What Are Plants Talking About?

IMG_4100I am in the middle of Spring. Sowing seeds. Thinning or pricking them out. Forking air into the soil of the beds. Sifting compost. Spreading it. Transplanting. Watering. Mulching. Moving electric fencing for the goats. Moving electric fencing for the sheep. Thinning fruit on the peach and pluot trees. Weeding. Picking strawberries. Building support for the raspberries. Guiding the growing boysenberries. Building new compost piles. Sowing seeds.

On days when gray clouds billow in the sky and the weather shifts back and forth from misting rain to warming sun, I feel the thrill of Life awakening all around me. There is a freshness in the air that happens only at this time of year. Spring is bouncing out of the cave of the dark winter light, and I can’t get too much of it. Taking my hands from the fluffy, moist soil to send them tapping over a keyboard – a part of me asks, “Why do that, when there is so much beauty and fun here?” (Thankfully for this blog, day does end and darkness falls, or some afternoons do get hot.)

The Red Malabar Spinach germinated today. Yes! A friend returns for a long season of mutual affection. How do I know it is mutual? Because I know that plants have both senses and social lives. For a peek into them, check out this Nature program What Plants Talk About. The time lapse photography in it does a great job of diminishing the seemingly vast differences between plants and animals.

Who are your favorite plant friends?

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How to Train Your Houseplant in 5 Easy Sessions

mimosa pudicaA friend recently sent me a link to an excellent article by Michael Pollan published in The New Yorker magazine, entitled “ The Intelligent Plant”. It’s a great overview of what science knows to date about the behaviours and awareness of plants. (Check it out here.)

I found the work of Monica Gagliano particularly intriguing. She is an animal ecologist who designed an ingenious experiment to determine to what extent plants are capable of the most basic form of learning: habituation. Gagliano used mimosa pudica, the sensitive plant, so-called because of its tendency to fold up its leaves in response to being touched, shaken, or dropped. She designed an apparatus that would drop each potted plant a distance of 15 centimeters every 5 seconds for a total of 60 drops per “training” session.

Of the 56 plants in the experiment, all of them eventually disregarded the dropping experience, leaving their leaves open once they determined it to be a “safe” experience. Several of the plants began leaving their leaves open after as few as 4, 5, or 6 drops. When these plants were later shaken by researchers, they all folded their leaves in response. They easily distinguished between being dropped and being shaken. In addition, when returned to the dropping experiment after a 28 day vacation, the plants remembered their previous experiences and left their leaves open. They had learned about being dropped.

The nascent science of plant neurobiology (a controversial term for many scientists as plants have no neurons or brain) is demonstrating that plants are fully capable of learning and remembering. They communicate information to each other through chemical and possibly other forms of signalling. They recognize kin. They form networks of mutual support sharing water and food. They have a minimum of 15 distinct senses through which they perceive their environment, using these to perform such amazing feats as sending their roots around rocks and toxic materials before they have even touched them.

Plants are more akin to animals than most scientists are ready to admit. Though many in the scientific community find the words “plant intelligence” to be offensive or unsettling, I find it reassuring. After all, we rely on the plant kingdom for oxygen, food, water purification, soil stabilization, soil creation, primary chemical research, and a host of other services. Clearly, they know what they are doing. Clearly, they have our backs.

Plant Spirit Communication: Immunity Is Not Resistance

A young poison-oak plant (Toxicodendron divers...

A young poison-oak plant (Toxicodendron diversilobum) in Purisima Creek Open Space Preserve in northern California (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I attended a workshop back in early July on Plant Spirit Communication taught by Heather Luna Keasby, owner of the Nevada City Herb and Tea Company.  It was a wonderful adventure because of Heather’s firm grounding in both clinical herbalism and shamanic plant traditions.  The blending of science and spirit helped me to return home more certain than ever that I am not making this stuff up – or if I am, it’s just because that’s the nature and process of reality in a quantum universe.

During the workshop, everyone spent some individual time connecting with the same plant species.  We would then gather and compare notes.  While no two people had the same experience, it was fun to see the themes that would start to emerge.  With Self-Heal, for example, words such as “beehive”, “community”, and “balance” were often used as different participants described their experience with the plant.  During my time with Self-Heal, I had a very strong sensation of energy buzzing back and forth, balancing the right and left hemispheres as well as the cortex and limbic regions of my brain.  I have a number of herb books, but none of them mention Self-Heal in connection with the nervous system, whether used as a tea, tincture, or flower essence.  My experience was so strong that such confirmation wasn’t necessary, nonetheless it was still nice to hear Heather mention that Self-Heal is used for the nervous system in clinical herbal applications.

Since the workshop, I have been taking time to sit with some of the plants on our property, including wild rose and poison oak.  Often these conversations feel very personal and specific to me and to this place.  Sometimes interesting ideas pop into my mind. (I seem to be prone to this phenomena – as mentioned in an earlier blog.)  However, these are thoughts that I’m sure I didn’t come up with alone.  While sitting with poison oak, I heard quite clearly, “Immunity is not resistance.”  The sentence repeated itself several times.  To put words to the gestalt image I had with this: Our immune systems do not go to war nor to battle.  Rather they bring an energy of “fruitfulness” to each situation and transform the imbalance into harmony.  Not understanding transformation, we interpret a battle scene, yet to operate optimally, immune systems require a strong flow of love and joy.

Being a consistently healthy person who developed immunity to poison oak long ago, this thought, “immunity is not resistance”, didn’t seem relevant to me.  But the plant was insistent that I receive this information.  Thinking about it later, I realized it made a lot of sense.  I know that when we experience anger, fear, or even frustration, our bodies respond by suppressing the immune system functions.  If immunity was resistance, if it was a war zone or a battlefield, the opposite should be true.  Those upset emotions should amp up our immune system responses, not depress them.  Happy people have the strongest immune systems.  An abundance of joy in a body provides plenty of energy for the immune system cells to carry out their transformative processes.  Which has interesting implications for responding to dis-eases in a garden, but I will leave that for another blog.

If you would like to experience what the plants say to you, this is a distillation of Heather’s basic formula:

  • Spend some time singing, chanting, breathing, meditating – whatever gets you to that alpha/theta brainwave state.
  • Ground your body.
  • Plan to give a minimum of half an hour to the plant you have chosen.  Good relationships take time.
  • Approach the plant, get comfortable, and introduce yourself – as you would to someone at a party.
  • State your intentions.  Three highly recommended intentions are:
  1. To let go of all preconceptions you may have about the plant.
  2. To have a clear exchange of the most mutually beneficial nature.  You can use whatever terms resonate with you here -“highest good”, etc.
  3. To receive information about this plant’s medicine.  (Or state whatever information you are interested in.)
  • Give the plant a gift or offering.  Heather uses a mix of dried herbs and rose petals that she has specially blessed.  Use something pretty.  My experience is that food is also welcome – slices of fruit, bread, goat’s milk, etc.  Give from your heart.
  • Spend the first 3 to 10 minutes just appreciating the plant.  Look at it closely, breathe on it (plants love CO2), admire it.  If you feel a strong urge to taste or eat a part of the plant, listen to your inner guidance on this one.  Plants are very giving in nature, but some are poisonous, so use common sense.
  • Notice your body.  Notice your thoughts.  How do you feel?  Where do you feel it? Notice whatever comes up.  Relax and breathe and notice.  And trust.

Have fun with this and please, please let me know if you have any interesting or wonderful experiences.