Humanising our Plants (Vija)

Many of us anthropomorphise plants. It is often a winning combination when writing about them. Anna Pavord, a particular favourite of mine, writes about Symphytum grandiflorum as being ‘thuggish in its attitude to neighbours’.[1] Violas are described as ‘well drilled miniature rent-a crowds, all gazing in the same direction, each bloom well-mannered enough not to get in the way of the one behind’[2].

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I have a pretty little Fittonia sitting on a table indoors and bought one for my daughter a while ago, as they seem fairly bullet proof. I tend to under water my houseplants and have noted this Fittonia in particular suddenly looking terribly limp; its leaves really hang down and it looks very miserable. However, a spot of water revives it swiftly and it looks complete sprightly again. My daughter commented that her plant ‘fainted’ – this is such an apt description it made me smile.

Of course, attributing human characteristics to plants may be another way of expressing the care we have for them. There are many keen gardeners who talk to their plants. I apologise profusely if I accidentally dig up and damage a bulb and it is often said that gardening is a form of nurturing.

Although anthropomorphisation has long been regarded as something of a lovable quirk, recent studies suggest it promotes a view of the object as prosocial, intelligent and able to suffer, all of which are important aspects in conservation. If this is not limited to species which we view as somehow ‘being like us’, the empathy intrinsic to anthropomorphisation can be a useful tool to conserve threatened biodiversity. Of course, this is a huge debate, but it does highlight the relationship between private attitudes and public approaches.


[1] Pavord, A. (1991) The Flowering Year Chatto and Windus, p. 56

[2] Pavord, A. (2001) Plant Partners Doring Kindersley, P 106.

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