Plants (Latin: Plantae), which include vascular plants and mosses, form an independent kingdom of nature on Earth alongside minerals, animals and humans. The essential plant organs or basic organs of vascular plants are root, shoot axis and leaf. The entirety of the plant world or plant kingdom is also called flora after the goddess of blossom and spring known from Roman mythology. The vegetation in a given area is formed by the totality of the plant communities and plant formations (e.g. deciduous forest, coniferous forest, grassland, desert, steppe, shrub-steppe, etc.) living there. It is shaped by factors such as climate, soil, rock and water balance, but also by the influences of animals, humans and fire.
Plants are living beings that have an independent etheric body in the physical world, but no astral body and no individual I of their own. The astral body of plants is to be found in a higher world, in the astral world. And the common I of the plants is to be found as an essential spiritual reality in the lower devachan.
The plant kingdom as the fifth elementary kingdom
From a spiritual point of view, the plants we see today are only a mineralised image of what the plants will once become when the Earth enters the fifth round of its evolution. All plants, animals and humans on earth today live only in the 4th elementary kingdom, the mineral kingdom. At the end of its physical evolution, the Earth will spiritualise itself and pass through a small Pralaya. Only then will the 5th elementary kingdom, the true plant kingdom, come into being. It will be a world of ceaseless shaping and reshaping, of permanent metamorphosis. The mineral kingdom banished into solid forms, which was redeemed in the fourth round, will then no longer exist.
„During the fifth round there will be no more mineral kingdom. It is redeemed. In the first half of this round man will his higher senses, by means of which he will enter into that relation to the vegetable kingdom the same relationship with the plant kingdom as he now has with the mineral kingdom. develops the plant thought. Then man lives consciously in the Garden of Eden. There is then no more heaviness. Everything will have transformed into the plant kingdom. During the second half of the fifth round, man draws the whole plant kingdom into himself again. he redeems it as far as he can redeem it.“ (Lit.:GA 89, p. 152f)
The Metamorphosis of Plants
In his Metamorphosis Theory, Goethe dealt specifically with the annual flowering plants, because it was in them that the plant-forming principle seemed to him to become most clearly apparent. They are all, Goethe recognised, built according to a uniform law. Behind the individual types such as the rose, the tulip, the violet, etc., there is a common archetype that encompasses them all and which Goethe calls the archetypal plant (German: Urpflanze). There must be such a thing, he thinks, because otherwise how could we even recognise that they are all plants. In fact, when we recognise a plant as a plant, this archetypal plant is active in each of us. Only we do not normally become really aware of it, but only of the finished judgement: "That is a plant". We sleep through the actual living thought process that produces this judgement. But this is nothing other than the exact mental image of the original plant itself that is active in nature.
Clairvoyant observation of plants
„When the clairvoyant looks at a plant as it takes root in the ground and puts on leaves and blossoms, he first has before him the plant, consisting of the physical body and the etheric body. The animal still has the astral body. Now you can raise the question: Do plants have nothing at all of an astral body? It would be wrong to assert this; it is only not within them as it is within the animal. When the clairvoyant consciousness looks at the plant, it sees the whole plant immersed in an astral cloud, a bright cloud that surrounds and envelops the plant, especially in those parts where it blossoms and bears fruit. So the astrality descends, as it were, upon the plant and envelops a part of it. The astral body of the plant is embedded in this astrality. And the peculiar thing about it is that if you think of the whole plant cover of the earth, you will find that the astral bodies of the plants adjoin one another and they form a whole by which the earth is enveloped as by physical air, by the plant astrality. If plants had only one etheric body, they would grow in such a way that they would only produce leaves, not blossoms, for the principle of the etheric body is repetition. If a repetition is to be completed and a conclusion formed, an astral body must be added.
Thus you can observe in the human body itself how the etheric and the astral work together. Think of the successive rings of the spine. There ring is joined to ring. As long as this happens, it is mainly the etheric principle that works in the organism. Above, where the bony capsule of the skull enters, there the astral predominates, namely there the astral has the preponderance. So the principle of repetition is the principle of the etheric, and the principle of completion is that of the astral. The plant would not be completed at the top in the blossom if the astral of the plant nature did not sink into the etheric.
If you follow a plant as it grows through the summer and then bears fruit in the autumn and then begins to wither, that is, when the blossom begins to die, then the astral draws back upwards from the plant again. This is particularly beautiful to observe. While the physical consciousness of man can take pleasure in the blossoming of the plants in spring, as field after field is covered with beautiful blossoms, there is another joy for the clairvoyant consciousness. When, towards autumn, the annual plants die, they shine and flit upwards like flitting figures that emerge as astral beings from the plants they have nourished throughout the summer. Here again is a fact that confronts us in the poetic image, which cannot be understood unless the clairvoyant consciousness can be traced in it. There we are already in an intimate field of astral consciousness. But among the peoples of prehistoric times, where such intimate clairvoyants existed, this seeing was also already present in the autumn. In the art of the clairvoyant people of India you will find the wonderful phenomenon of a butterfly or a bird flying out of a calyx. This is another example of how something rises in art which is based on clairvoyant consciousness from those distant times when clairvoyant consciousness either worked in the artists or was observed as a tradition.
An astral body is therefore also present in the plant. The animal has a physical body, an etheric body and an astral body. We have found the I of the animal in the group soul. We have now spoken of the astral body of the plant, which, when the plant withers, we have characterised as a being that pulls itself out. Does the plant also have an I? Yes, there is the same thing for plants that we call the group soul in animals, only here the peculiarity prevails that all the plant-I' s of the plant are directed towards one single place on earth, namely towards the centre of the earth. It is as if the Earth were irradiated on all sides by the group-I' s of all the plants, and that is why the plant grows towards the Earth. But this I cannot be observed on the astral plane. There the clairvoyant finds the animal group souls. He also finds those double beings as we have seen them in the symbol of Michael with the dragon. He also finds what has now been described, but he would search in vain for the plant-egos on the astral plane. They are only in the higher, in the actual spiritual world, in the coarser, lower parts of the Devachan, in the Rupa Devachan. There are the actual plant-souls, the plant-iches, and they are all in one another in such a way that they are all in one another with their actual centre, united in the centre of the Earth.“ (Lit.:GA 108, p. 23ff)
„For spiritual research, the Earth is a spiritual being, and thoughts and feelings awaken every spring and pass through the soul of our whole Earth throughout the summer. But the plant world, which is a part of our whole Earth organism, gives off the organs so that our Earth can think and feel. The plants are interwoven into the spirit of the Earth like our eyes or ears into the gears of our spirit. In spring a living, spirit-filled organism awakens, and in the plants we see something that drifts out of the face of our Earth, where it wants to begin to feel and think in some field. And just as everything in us human beings tends towards a self-aware ego, so it is also in the plant world. The whole plant world belongs to the earth. I have already said that a man would have to be close to madness who would not think, just as in us everything that is sensations, ideas, feelings, is directed towards our ego. Thus everything that the plants convey during the summer time is directed towards the centre of the earth, which is the I of the Earth. This is not merely to be said symbolically! Just as man has his I, so the Earth has its self-aware I. That is why all plants strive towards the centre of the earth. Therefore we must not look at the plants in isolation, but in alternation with the self-aware I of the Earth. What takes place as thoughts and sensations of the Earth is as sensations and conceptions live in us, what arises and flows in us at waking time, what lives astrally in us when we speak spirit-scientifically.“ (Lit.:GA 60, p. 172f)
The I of the plants
„If we now ascend to still higher worlds with the visionary faculty, we come to the lower devachan plan, the lower spiritual world. It too pervades our physical and astral world. There we find the group-spirits of the plants. You already know that the plants that cover the Earth are to be united into large groups, to which a group ego then corresponds. Only these group-I's are to be found on the Devachan plan, but they are first localised in the centre of the Earth. There all the group-I's of the plants have their centre. And if you imagine the whole Earth in this way, you see it as a great organism in which the various group-I's of the plants also interpenetrate. This sum of plant group-I's feels suffering and joy, pleasure and pain, just as the human organism does. We can state quite precisely how pleasure and suffering exist in this earth organism. We know that the plucking of the plants gives pleasure, even lust, a feeling of well-being, a feeling of well-being similar to that which the cow feels when the calf sucks its milk. The uprooting of the root, on the other hand, hurts the Earth organism, causes it discomfort. Thus you see how one can indicate in particular how the beings of the devachanic world feel. Whatever we do on Earth, are not sober facts, but when we do this or that, we give some being pleasure or pain, joy or sorrow. When the reaper cuts through the stalks, a breath of well-being, which the plant soul feels, passes over the fields. Thus he who has feeling for these things passes over the Earth, learning to sympathise with the spiritual beings who live in the higher worlds and who again only send their organs into the physical world.“ (Lit.:GA 98, p. 164)
Thus, when flowers or other above-ground plant parts are cut off, the whole Earth feels a sense of well-being comparable to that felt by the cow when she suckles her calf. It is quite different, however, when the roots are torn out of the soil:
„Now that which is above the Earth in plants relates to the Earth in approximately the same way as milk relates to man and animal. When the calf sucks on the animal, on the cow, it means a certain feeling of well-being for the cow. The whole Earth has this same feeling when you cut off a flower or a plant. For what the earth sends to the sun, what it expels, is the same in another form that lives in the milk. But if you tear out a plant by the root, it is exactly the same as if you tear out a human limb or cut it into the flesh. It is something quite different that our Earth feels when you cut off a plant that is still firmly rooted in the Earth - the Earth feels a sense of well-being there - and something quite different when you tear out a plant with the root. You are not to judge this morally, but as the facts lie; and so they lie.
Now try not merely to think such a truth, but to feel it! You see, one feels it like this: When one goes outside in autumn and sees the farmer mowing away the grain with his scythe, one who knows what it is about in the astral body of the Earth feels, with the mowing away of the grain, something like feelings of lust, of joy, of pleasure, passing over the Earth. Indeed, it is a feeling of joy for the whole Earth when the reaper cuts away the grain at harvest time.“ (Lit.:GA 98, p. 119f)
Each plant genus belongs to a certain group soul, but on the whole there are seven comprehensive plant group souls which send out their effects from the centre of the Earth.
„On the whole there are seven group souls which belong to the Earth as plant souls and all have in a certain way the centre of their own being in the Earth's centre. So that we cannot only imagine the Earth as this physical ball, but this Earth is permeated by seven such spheres, more or less large or small, which all have something like their own spiritual centre in the centre of the Earth. And then these spiritual beings drive the plants out of the Earth. The root grows towards the centre of the Earth because it actually wants to go there and is only prevented by the remaining earth matter from advancing to the centre. Every plant root strives to penetrate to the centre of the earth, where the centre of the spiritual being is, to which the plant belongs.“ (Lit.:GA 134, p. 109f)
- Rudolf Steiner: Antworten der Geisteswissenschaft auf die großen Fragen des Daseins, GA 60 (1983), ISBN 3-7274-0600-3 English: rsarchive.org German: pdf pdf(2) html mobi epub archive.org
- Rudolf Steiner: Bewußtsein – Leben – Form , GA 89 (2001), ISBN 3-7274-0890-1 English: rsarchive.org German: pdf pdf(2) html mobi epub archive.org
- Rudolf Steiner: Natur- und Geistwesen – ihr Wirken in unserer sichtbaren Welt, GA 98 (1996), ISBN 3-7274-0980-0 English: rsarchive.org German: pdf pdf(2) html mobi epub archive.org
- Rudolf Steiner: Die Beantwortung von Welt- und Lebensfragen durch Anthroposophie, GA 108 (1986), ISBN 3-7274-1081-7 English: rsarchive.org German: pdf pdf(2) html mobi epub archive.org
- Rudolf Steiner: Die Welt der Sinne und die Welt des Geistes, GA 134 (1990) English: rsarchive.org German: pdf pdf(2) html mobi epub archive.org
References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
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- The term was coined in 1850 by the German botanist Alexander Braun: "Thus s h o ot, l e a f and r o o t appear to us as essentially different parts of the vegetal organism, as basic organs of the plant life based on the diversity of the directions of its formation. Their sure and sharp distinction is the foundation of morphology". (Alexander Braun: Betrachtungen über die Erscheinung der Verjüngung in der Natur, insbesondere in der Lebens- und Bildungsgeschichte der Pflanze. Verlag von Wilhelm Engelmann, Leipzig 1851, p. 120 archive.org)