Understanding Plants From A Biodynamic Perspective

The Development Of Plants

(1.1) Firstly, let’s look into the functioning of the internal and external characteristics of a plant. All plants have roots, leaves, and stems. Most plants also develop seeds, and flowers in order to reproduce. The exception is plants such as ferns or mosses that reproduce asexually through spreading spores.

A plant needs to be able to locate nourishment and draw moisture from its root hairs in the soil and needs an internal vascular structuring in order to transport this vital nourishment through the plant. Xylem and phloem tissues extend throughout the plant, comparable to our own internal vascular system that transports blood around our body. The xylem conveys water and dissolved minerals, the phloem specialises in transporting carbohydrates and storing water and carbohydrates. They also provide strength and pliability to the plant.

The epidermis is a layer of cells that covers all of the parts of the plant, it has a waxy outermost layer to protect the plant from water loss, infection, and damage. There are pores in the epidermis known as stomas which allow for regulated gas exchanges. The stoma pore occurs in greater deity on the leaves, as they allow carbon dioxide to enter for photosynthesis to take place.

Between the epidermis and the vascular tissues lies the cortex, the main function of which is to perform metabolic processes. The cortex consists of cells that are actively dividing which is important to the growth of the plant, and wound healing. The cortex allows for the plant to stretch as grows, and for fibres from long strands that give plants structural support, and in some cases have very thick cells to offer the plant protection from consumption from animals,

Processes In Plant Development

(1.2) When the conditions are right, a radicle root will break through the skin of the seed, and as soon as takes it finds moisture, the cotyledons will unravel from their compressed state within the seed and come up for light. To complete our picture of the seedling we also have hypocotyl which is the infant stem, located between the radicle root and the cotyledons. The seedling does not develop in the soil, it’s only an outpouring from the seed.

Flowering plants are divided into either dicotyledons (two cotyledon leaves) or monocotyledons (single cotyledon leaf.) Monocotyledon plants tend to have long narrow leaves, with parallel veins such as garlic, grass, onions, orchids, and tulips. Monocotyledons probably evolved from more primitive dicotyledon plants, however from quick research many researchers have come to different conclusions on the matter. Dicotyledon plants are the more common of the garden plants, the leaves are broad, and have a network of veins, plants include all Brassicas, the rose family, and all nightshades.

Continuing the development of the plant for a dicotyledon. The cotyledon leaves branch out to reveal a plumule, which is the primary bud of the plant embryo, located at the apex of the embryonic stem. It doesn’t straighten until it is above the soil, so it doesn’t get damaged in its delicate state. In the plumule contain the first true leaves that will hint at the form and species of the plant.

The first true leaves provide the capability to capture the sun’s light, to be synthesised into energy. Plants have the ability to make their food through photosynthesis. Carbon dioxide, water, and sunlight are synthesised to produce glucose, oxygen and water. Photosynthesis takes place in the chloroplasts which are found many in the middle layer of the leaf.

6CO2 (six molecules of carbon dioxide)+ 12H2O (twelve molecules of water)+ light → C6H12O6 (glucose) + 6O2 (six molecules of oxygen) + 6H2O (six molecules of water)

The glucose is transported through the various parts of the plant through the phloem, where it can be used to create more plant material such as cellulose and proteins. Photosynthesis can only take place during the daylight hours, while respiration can take place day and night. When temperatures are warmer then a higher rate of respiration takes place, leading to an increase in the growth of plant tissues, the opposite is true for colder temperatures.

When writing about photosynthesis it is also interesting to consider the governing law of phyllotaxis, which denotes the arrangement of a plant’s leaves. Some plants such as Stinging Nettle simply arrange their leaves in pairs while most other plants arrange their leaves in a spiral going up the stem of the plant. This allows for the leaves to capture more light for energy, as there are few shadows cast by the leaves above. Rudolf Steiner believed that phyllotaxis is a cosmic reflection of the movements of the planets. The law of phyllotaxis also corresponds to the Fibonacci sequence.

Natural and cultural external conditions influencing plant processes

(1.3) Biodynamic horticulture aims to provide the ideal conditions for plants to thrive. By ensuring the soil is healthy, vital, well-structured, and fertile, we can nurture an environment to help the plant unfold its life cycle naturally. Different types of plants require different treatments. Plants such as squash, tomatoes, peppers, and aubergines may require a greenhouse or a polytunnel to stop cold spells of a British climate from hindering growth, preventing the fruiting or ripening of the fruit. Tomatoes will also require a lot of human intervention in order to grow fruits, this includes supporting them upright, removing side-shoot, providing rich compost, and only watering at the roots, in biodynamics, we could also apply preparation 501 to help with the ripening, and potentially a spray of 508 horsetail to help prevent mildew.

By observing plants we can see whether it is unhealthy or healthy. From the unhealthy colours or marks on the leaves, we can understand the nutrient deficiency present in the soil and address them. It may also mean that the plant is in an unsuitable location, the plant has been transplanted incorrectly, or maybe to soil isn’t free draining.

When sowing seeds we have to consider the correct planting times. Conditions too humid may cause the seedling to shoot upward with a leggy stem, while conditions too cold may create conditions not favourable for the seedling to arrive above the soil horizon.

In Biodynamics, we have the Maria Thun calendar that offers recommendations for planting types according to the moon’s many simultaneous rhythms, and the movements of the seven planets. Thereby different days have been considered more favourable for the sowing of different plants based on the fourfold categorisation of being either a leaf, flower, fruit, or root plant.

Phenomenological Plant Observations

You are perplexed, my love, by this thousandfold mixed profusion,
Flowering tumultuously everywhere over the garden grounds;
So many names you are hearing, but one suppresses another,
Echoing barbarously the sound makes in the ear.
Each of their shapes is alike, yet none resembles the other,
Thus the whole of the choir points to a secret law,
Points to a holy puzzle. I wish, lovely friend, that I were able to
Happily hand you at once the disentangling word!

– Goethe

Goethe’s Metamorphosis Of Plants

(2.1) Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe was a kind of polymath that only appears every few centuries, his boundless adaptation of the legend of Faust sits on the Western canon along with the likes of Shakespeare, Dante, and the Bible. Goethe made a journey to Italy from 1786-88, to reinvigorate his creative capabilities after 10 years overseeing policies on the privy council in Weimar. On his return, he entered into the scientific realm with his study of the metamorphoses of plants.

At the beginning of his journey, Goethe believed that he would find the Urpflanze, an archetypal, primal plant, from which all plants had derived from. He believed the Urpflanze would contain all the potential configurations of a plant’s features, and any plant that could exist would have to follow logically from the primal plant.

In Sicily, Goethe had an epiphany, he had found his archetype in all plants, it was the leaf. “While walking in the Public Gardens of Palermo, it came to me in a flash that in the organ of the plant which we are accustomed to calling the leaf lies the true Proteus who can hide or reveal himself in vegetal forms. From first to last, the plant is nothing but a leaf, which is so inseparable from the future germ that one cannot think of one without the other.”

Goethe’s Method Of Observing

  • Stage One: Exact Sense Perception
    We make a detailed observation about the object we behold, trying to suspend all personal judgements, and let the facts emerge from the object. It is natural to compare the object with other objects.
  • Stage Two: Exact Sensorial Fantasy
    We develop a dynamic perception of the object, beyond the solid facts of stage one. We try to imagine the flowing processes of the object.
  • Stage Three: Seeing Is Beholding
    The first two stages have given the object a sense of familiarity. It is now time to suspend active perception as far as we can and allow the object to take an active role. We offer the object our human capacity for conscious awareness and receive what it allows us to know. We may hope to see a series of processes unfold from the object,
  • Stage Four: Being One
    Isis Brook has summarized Goethe method of observation as perception, imagination, inspiration, and intuition. The stage of intuition takes us beyond known concepts, we enter into the object we are observing. Here we may look for a unifying idea.

(2.2) Taking time to observe is an important aspect of biodynamics and anthroposophy in general Rudolf Steiner has described many observational exercises with the purpose of strengthening a student’s spiritual intuition.

During my first year of biodynamic training, I had an observation spot that I would go to every Monday morning for about ten minutes. The purpose of this was to notice subtle changes in the environment. Each moment of observation my attention would be brought to a different element. I remember one morning being overwhelmed by the sound of the traffic, which must have been carried by the wind. Another time, I remember being pulled in by all the different shapes of the tree tops, which all expressed their own character.

I felt as if I was calibrating myself to the seasons, I was able to observe and witness Summer becoming Autumn, Autumn becoming Winter, Winter becoming Spring, and Spring becoming Summer. Whereas, the seasons can pass by unknowingly, with little appreciation for the qualities and gifts each season brings.

Principles Of Plant Breeding

(3.1) Human beings have been storing and saving seeds for thousands of years. Our ancestors cultivated plants, saving the seeds of those plants that tasted the best, stored the best, or we the most nutritious. We owe all of the fruits and vegetables that we enjoy to prehistoric humans. From continuous sections of seeds, our food is of a bigger size, ripens quicker, ripens synchronous, is sweeter, and more palatable.

Modern industrial farming over the last 100 years has manipulated the seed on a molecular level. Mankind seeds that have been passed down through countless generations, seeds that belong to all of us and should be our gifts to posterity, have been commodified and owned by corporations.

Our seeds have been subjected to:

  • Genetic Engineering (inserting DNA into the genome of a plant, to create certain characteristics)
  • Hybridization (controlling the pollination between plants, seeds cannot be reproduced)
  • Terminator Technology (modifying plants to produce sterile seeds)
  • Monoculture (many seeds varieties are becoming extinct)
  • Protoplast Fusion (fusing together two distinct plants)
  • Patenting (seeds become owned by corporations)

Today, farming practices continue to exploit nature for short-term ends. But this has been happening for over a hundred years. In the 1920s farmers in German began to realise that they could no longer reuse seeds, they went to Rudolf Steiner with these observations which eventually led to the agriculture course in 1924.

The biodynamic preparations can be used to help enliven the seed. Seeds grown on biodynamic seeds will be more intensified than seeds that are produced in an environment where the health of the soil and the rhythm of the seasons are not taken into consideration.

Looking at the farm as an organism it is ideal to produce as many seeds as possible from within the farm itself. Seeds collected from the farm, become more and more adapted to the environment over time. The grower also can select only the seeds from the most desirable plants.

The Elementals In Relation To Plant Development

When spiritual vision is directed to the plant-world, we are immediately led to a whole host of beings, which were known and recognized in the old times of instinctive clairvoyance, but which were afterwards forgotten and today remain only as names used by the poet, names to which modern man ascribes no reality. To the same degree, however, in which we deny reality to the beings which whirl and weave around the plants, to that degree do we lose the understanding of the plant-world. This understanding of the plant-world, which, for instance, would be so necessary for the art of healing, has been entirely lost to present-day humanity.” – Rudolf Steiner, Man As A Symphony Of The Creative Word, Lecture 7

(4.1) In the agriculture course, Steiner names elemental beings that are involved with the creative process within the plant. The elemental beings relate to an element, and to an ether.

The gnomes are the elemental nature spirits, that work in the world of the spirit of the roots. The mediate between the earth-realm and the roots. In their spirit nature, they are entirely sense, meaning they immediately understand what is seen and heard.

Once the plant has grown upwards, once it has left the domain of the gnomes and has passed out of the sphere of the moist-earthly element into the sphere of the moist-airy, the plant develops what comes to outer physical formation in the leaves

The elemental spirit of water is known as undines, they live in the etheric element of water, and they bind and disperse the substance of the air, to take to the leaves, what was pushed up by the gnomes in the roots. The undines weave themselves around the plant lifting it upwards.

The sylphs live in the airy-warmth element, and weave an ideal plant form from the light. They are always moving towards the light, and aid the flowering processes within the plant.

These fire-spirits are the inhabitants of the warmth-light element. When the warmth of the earth is at its height, or is otherwise suitable, they gather the warmth together. Just as the sylphs gather up the light, so do the fire-spirits gather up the warmth and carry it into the blossoms of the plants.

The fire spirits or salamanders are in the realm of the warmth ether, they connect with the seed and fruit formation.

The Working Of Cosmic And Earthly Formative Forces In Plants

(5.1) For a plant to grow it requires light from the sun, and darkness from the soil. It could be understood that the plant is an embodiment of cosmic and earth forces, and I’m biodynamics we have to maintain this balance, through preparations and respecting the rhythms of the year.

The sun provides warmth and light to the plant, in addition, it creates our metrological rhythms, it’s also known that the gravitational pull of the moon creates our tides. Rudolf Steiner and biodynamic thinking go a step further and understand that the seven planets have characteristics that affect minerals, plants, and animals.

The soil is the foundation of agriculture. Steiner explains in Lecture 2 of the agriculture course, that we often regard soil as being ‘purely mineral’ with some organic matter. He says that the soil has a ‘soul quality’ and an ‘inner life’. In the garden, it is clear that the quality, appearance, and texture of the soil change throughout the year.

Rudolf Steiner conceives the soil to be an organ, and states that ‘where there is an organ, there is growth’. The near-earth planets, the Moon, Mercury, and Venus influence the force of the sun to affect everything above the surface of the soil. The distant planets that are beyond the sun work on everything below the soil.

“The growth of plants is affected by the distant heavens in so far as it takes place underground, and by the nearer heavens in so far as it takes place above ground; and the influences upon vegetable growth coming from the expanses of the Cosmos do not shine directly down upon the earth, but are first absorbed by the earth which then causes them to radiate upwards. What come from beneath as good or bad vegetable growth are really the cosmic influences which are reflected from below; whereas in the air and water above the earth the Cosmos exercises its power directly.” – Rudolf Steiner, Lecture 2

The forces from the distant planets are brought into the plant’s roots, by the silica and clay present in the soil. These forces stream up the plant from below, and above ground, in the ‘belly’ the forces from the near planets permeate into the plant through air and water vapour through the leaves., and these forces stream downwards to also nourish the roots of the plant.


Rudolf Steiner | The Agriculture Course – Lecture II
Gerbert Grohann | The Plant Vol.1
Richard Thornton Smith | Cosmos, Earth And Nutrition
Goethe | The Metamorphosis Of Plants
Rudolf Steiner | Man As A Symphony Of The Creative Word – Lecture VII

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