When I pulled the shorn Passionlower out of her pot I winced, experiencing the familiar anxiety and grief because I have known for a long time that plants feel pain. I had already traumatized the Passionflower once the week before when I had clipped the plant’s graceful spiraling vines with their three lobed leaves close to the plant’s central stalk leaving only one vine and a few tendrils intact. By cutting her back I have made it possible for her to make the long distance trip to Abiquiu, New Mexico safely (She has to be covered in order not to freeze).
For the second time in a week I apologized to the plant profusely for the trauma explaining that I had to re-pot her in the same size pot because I couldn’t lift anything heavier. In order to create enough space for new soil, I had to rip away tender roots. The plant responded almost instantly with drooping leaves and wilted tendrils. My plant was in shock. I silently begged her to forgive me as I quickly packed new soil around the remaining ragged roots, watered, fed, and placed her back in her window, noting how similar her bent posture was to my own when I am grieving… I told her I loved her.
Four hours later I returned to see that my Passionflower leaves were spread out plump and evenly, shimmering emerald in the late afternoon sun. A few tendrils were climbing through the air searching for purchase. I tenderly turned them towards the center trunk in a spiral fashion knowing that this would keep them safe during the trip but also aware that these vines had minds of their own and would try to thwart my attempts to control them even for a brief moment in time!
When my impossible bird, Lily b. ripped off a tasty leaf to eat I hid the new growth behind two cactus plants that I hoped would deter him from creating further damage. With two days to go until we leave, I hope my bird continues to behave himself.
Now every time I inspect my Passionflower I feel gratitude that she seems to be thriving and relief that the trauma is over for both of us.
Most folks find my relationship with plants very strange, and yet plants grow for me in ways that are sometimes astonishing even to me! I treat plants with the same respect I accord to animals, believing them to be wise ones, teachers, and guides. After all, plants have existed in some form on this planet for 450,000 thousand years, animals for 350,000 years and in my way of thinking, they are literally our “elders.”
For most of my life my “anthropomorphizing,” that is attributing human characteristics and feelings to non – human beings, has brought me skepticism and ridicule, but my feeling/sensing body has not lied.
Recently, groundbreaking research informs us that trees in an untouched forest experience pain, have memories, communicate extensively with each other, develop close relationships between parents and children, and in some cases when the elders are cut down children continue to send the stumps sugar nutrients and water to keep the remnant of a once proud and stately tree alive for generations. In a natural forest community trees and plants need each other. The prestigious science journal Nature has coined this interdependence of forest species the “wood wide web.”
I feel vindicated at last.
My intimate relationship with plants stems back to my earliest childhood years. Plants and trees seemed to speak to me through my senses without the use of words. As I matured I never lost that sense that plants/trees and I were engaged in relationship even though I didn’t know the specifics. Eventually it became clear to me that they thrived on being loved. I trusted plants, much the way I trusted animals and unlike humans, they have never let me down.