Plants as the Sense Organs of the Earth


“Of all that belongs in this way to the Earth, let us first take the plant kingdom. We will approach it in order then to find the transition to what meets us in man. Whereas the mineral kingdom to a certain extent carries on an independent Earth-existence and is only related to the Cosmos outside the Earth in such a way as is shown, for example, in the changing of water into ice in winter, the plant kingdom retains a much greater inner connection with the cosmic surroundings of the Earth — with all that enters the Earth from the Cosmos. Through the plant-world the life of the Earth as it were opens itself to the Universe. In geographical regions where in a given season an intensive interaction is taking place between Earth and Cosmos. We must pay heed to a phenomenon like this, for it will lead us into the realm of Astronomy not only quantitatively, but qualitatively. We must be able to derive our ideas from such a thing as this, even as the astronomers of our time derive their ideas from angles, parallaxes and so on.

The plant-life, covering a given region of the Earth, is a kind of sense-organ, sensitive to all that is revealed towards the Earth out of the Cosmos. At seasons when the interplay is more intense between a portion of the Earth’s surface and the Universe, it is as though a human being were opening his eyes to the outer world to receive sense-impressions. And when the interplay is less intense between the Earth and the Cosmos, the consequent decline and inward closure of the vegetative life is like a closing of the eyes to the Cosmos. It is more than a mere comparison to say that through its vegetation a given territory opens its eyes to the Universe in spring and summer and shuts its eyes in autumn and winter, and as by opening and closing of our eyes we do in a way converse with the outer world, so too it is a kind of information or revelation from the Universe which the Earth receives by the opening and closing of its eyes through the life of plants.

And to describe it a little more precisely, we may consider the vegetation of a given region of the Earth when exposed, as it were, so to speak, to the most vivid interplay with the solar life, and we may then turn our attention to the state of vegetation in this region when it is not thus exposed. The winter, I need hardly say, does not interrupt the vegetative life of the Earth. It goes without saying that the vegetative life continues through the winter. But it expresses itself in quite another way than when exposed to the intensive working of the Sun’s rays — or, shall we say, of the Cosmos. Under the influence of the solar life, the vegetative life of the Earth shoots outward into form. The leaves unfold and grow more complex; flowers develop. But when this is followed by the closing of the eyes to the Universe, if we may call it so, the vegetative life goes back into itself — into the seed. Withdrawing from the outer world, it no longer shoots into outward form; it concentrates, if I may put it so, into a point; it becomes centered in itself.

We may describe this contrast truly as a law of Nature. The interplay between the earthly and the solar life reveals itself in the Earth’s vegetation. Under the solar influence the vegetative life shoots outward into form; under the influence of the earthly life it closes up into a plant, — it becomes seed or germ. In all this there is a quality of expansion and contraction or gathering into a center. Here we begin to apprehend the relationships of space itself in a directly qualitative aspect. This is the very thing which we must practice in the development of our ideas, if we would attain to really fruitful notions and perceptions in this sphere.”

R. Steiner, Third Scientific Lecture Course – Astronomy, Lecture 3, 3 January 1921, CW323