From Emily Dickinson’s Gardening Life: The Plants and Places That Inspired the Iconic Poet by Marta McDowell:
“White daisies with yellow eyes contrast with red poppies. Dickinson associated with them, sometimes taking Daisy as a nickname for herself in letters. The daisies that she grew and that still populate the fields around Amherst are oxeye daisies….
“While she adored them, not everyone agreed. One of her relations countered, ‘Why do people rave over the beauty of daisies? They look to me like hard-boiled eggs cut in two.’
“Flowers are a matter of taste.”
From What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses by Daniel Chamovitz:
“Most of us interact with plants every day. At times we experience plants as soft and comforting, like grass in a park during an indulgent midday nap or fresh rose petals spread across silk sheets. Other times they are rough and prickly: we navigate around pesky thorns to get to a blackberry bush on a meander through the woods or trip over a knotted tree trunk that’s worked its way up through the street….
“But in most cases, plants remain passive objects, inert props that we interact with but ignore while we do so. We pluck petals from daisies. We saw the limbs off unsightly branches….
“What if plants knew we were touching them?”
“What if plants knew we were touching them?” — interesting query, if you think about it. But what I really want to know is:
What if plants knew we were taking their pictures???
If they knew… would they turn their flowers toward more flattering light? or try to stand still in the wind? Would they prefer we dust off their pollen? or get mad if their petals and leaves were blemished? Would they call on some bees and butterflies to come into the frame, or prefer to be solitary subjects? Would they be glad we spend hours bent at their “feet” — or just wish they could shoo us away?
These are all pressing questions, of course, even if no photographer has ever asked them before. 🙂
Those plants that by their nature respond to tactile stimulus (see Rapid Plant Movement) are typically regarded as having a mechanical response to touch; but what if instead they possess rudimentary perception and cognition — and we humans (one of whom just insulted plants by calling them “rudimentary”) don’t understand them yet. I mean, ideas around animal cognition are still in their infancy, and we’re just beginning to grasp wee bits about how animals’ thought processes might work. It wasn’t such a long time ago that people generally believed animal actions were simply ingrained, conditioned, and reactive, essentially mechanical — despite the fact that anyone who has animals in their lives can see that that’s unlikely.
Our mythology, art, literature, and film all often feature sentient, smart plants. In our time, from yapping tiger lilies in Alice and Wonderland to mean-talking trees in The Wizard of Oz, we’ve created fantasy worlds where plants have active cognitive lives and engage in self-directed movements of their own. More recently, plants that seem to act and think make their way into science fiction and horror films; movies like The Girl with All the Gifts, Annihilation, or The Happening — movies I liked, but many people didn’t — all created imaginary spaces where violent behavior of plants was set in the context of environmentalism, as warnings to humans who abuse the natural world. The first two movies (and the books they were based on; see here and here) were excellent sci-fi (in my opinion); The Happening was more like a horror story where a dry summer breeze presaged psychotic and murderous human conduct. Should you watch that movie, pay particular attention to the sound of the wind; you’ll never hear leaves and grass blowing around you the same way again.
I’ve been a vegetarian since 2014; so I’ll admit I’m a little concerned about a discovery that plants are sentient and thoughtful. I’ve elminated dead animals from my diet, but what am I going to eat if we find out that plants have feelings? As it is, when I roast some potatoes in the oven and I can tell that they’re almost done because they start hissing… is that just steam escaping or are they actually screaming at me? Should plants turn out to be animals with leaves, The Silence of the Lambs will have to be rewritten as The Silence of the Yams. And I guess I’ll just end out drinking water with a blob of Soylent Green… oh, wait, that stuff’s made from PEOPLE!
Here are some more daisies, two of which invited a honeybee to join my photoshooot.
Thanks for taking a look!