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Plants As Persons: A Philosophical Botany by Matthew Hall and Harold Coward (SUNY Series on Religion and the Environment: State University of New York, SUNY) Plants are people too? Not exactly, but in this work of philosophical botany Matthew Hall challenges readers to reconsider the moral standing of plants, arguing that they are other-than-human persons. Plants constitute the bulk of our visible biomass, underpin all natural ecosystems, and make life on Earth possible. Yet plants are considered passive and insensitive beings rightly placed outside moral consideration. As the human assault on nature continues, more ethical behavior toward plants is needed. Hall surveys Western, Eastern, Pagan, and Indigenous thought, as well as modern science and botanical history, for attitudes toward plants, noting the particular resources for plant personhood and those modes of thought which most exclude plants. The most hierarchical systems typically put plants at the bottom, but Hall finds much to support a more positive view of plants. Indeed, some Indigenous animisms actually recognize plants as relational, intelligent beings who are the appropriate recipients of care and respect. New scientific findings encourage this perspective, revealing that plants possess many of the capacities of sentience and mentality traditionally denied them.

Excerpt: How should we speak to trees, how should we treat the trees, other animals and each other that all of us can live and live at peace? —Erazim Kohák


Most people are aware that human beings are harming nature. Every iconic picture of a dying rainforest, a slaughtered tiger, or a poisoned river rams home the fact that human relationships with the natural world are increasingly destructive. In some of the strongest analyses of our environmental crisis, it has been instead that human hyperseparation from the natural world has entangled us in what conservation biologists recognize as the sixth great extinction crisis—a crisis of death that is human made. Environmental philosopher Val Plumwood has put forward the idea that the prevailing Western culture has created a human-nature dualism.2 In this worldview, nature is constructed as radically different from the human, and human culture is radically separated from it. Plumwood argues that Western worldviews in particular render nature as an insignificant Other, a homogenized, voiceless, blank state of existence, a perception of nature that helps justify domination of the Earth.

Largely because it is depicted as devoid of the attributes which require human attention—such as mentality, agency, and volition—nature is left out of the sphere of human moral consideration. In the words of the recent UN GEO4 report, the resulting behavior toward the natural world constitutes an assault on the global environment that risks undermining biospheric integrity. An appropriate response to the swathe of environmental problems created by human beings must be to develop less destructive, more respectful, harmonious relationships between humans and nature. Yet, the concept of nature is somewhat elusive and homogenous.

To the postmodern deconstructionist, nature is a provocative term, a human construct, created only in its situated opposition to the human realm of culture. In the physical sciences, nature is thought of in terms of universals and inviolable laws. The physicist and the astronomer form their idea of nature from celestial bodies, and their governing forces. Back on Earth, the cultural geographer David Harvey perceives nature in terms of dialectics, as a series of processes and flows. This idea of nature as a system of transfers has much in common with contemporary ideas in the ecological sciences. Within the realm of environmental philosophy, process-based understandings of nature are often advocated. Freya Mathews regards nature as the absence of abstract design, as "whatever happens when we, or other agents under the direction of abstract thought, let things be."

Despite the abundance of philosophical and everyday references to nature, it is clear that within environmental studies, "nature has remained a largely undifferentiated concept, its constituent parts rarely theorized separately." Therefore, a logical response to the challenge of renewing ethical relationships with nature in a time when much of the nonhuman world is threatened by human activity is to theorize human-nature relationships in terms of heterogeneity. We must take Plumwood's two major tasks for humanity, "(re)situating humans in ecological terms and non-humans in ethical terms" and apply them in terms of a separately theorized nature of diversity, abundance, and individual (as well as collective) presence.

Using insights from biology, such activity has been proceeding for some time in the broadly defined discipline of animal studies. For decades, animal rights theory has been directly concerned with establishing more ethical relationships with animals. Leading animal rights theorists such as Peter Singer, Tom Regan, and Gary Francione have used an understanding of the sentience and subjectivity of animals to argue for their moral consideration.  Ethologist Mark Bekoff has also pioneered this approach in zoology. A leading voice for the ethical treatment of animals, Bekoff directs his research to maximize human recognition of animals as fascinating, complex, social beings—autonomous individuals that fully deserve human moral consideration. Such detailed biological knowledge of animal physiology and behavior has prompted a number of wider animal-human studies that have aimed at reestablishing human-animal relationships on more moral terms." In view of the major tasks for humanity, these studies have begun to question the dualism of humans and nonhumans and have begun to open up the possibility of moral consideration for nonhumans.

While such studies of moral consideration for animals proliferate, studies that focus on arguing for the moral consideration of plants are rare. Yet, recognizing the need for more ethical human-nature relationships and the need to theorize the constituents of nature separately, we must also acknowledge that the largest component of a nature composed of nonhuman beings is not composed of animal life. In the Earth's deserts and on her mountainous peaks, much of the nonhuman world is composed of rock. In her seas, lakes, and rivers, the biggest nonhuman presence is water. However, in the majority of places that are inhabited by people—even within towns and cities, particularly in Europe and North America—plants dominate the natural world.

Most places on Earth which contain life are visibly plantscapes. Whether they walk in human transformed habitats or in wilderness, human beings are far more likely to encounter plants than any other type of living being. In fact, the bulk of the visible biomass on this planet is comprised of plants. It is a fact that in most habitable places on Earth, being in the natural world first and foremost involves being amongst plants, not amongst animals, fungi, or bacteria. Although fungi, bacteria, and animals are important for sustaining natural processes, plants are the most abundant form of life in nature that humans encounter." Importantly, both directly and indirectly, it is the visible presence of this plant biomass which enables the presence and continued existence of human beings.

Within the imprecision of the term nature, the global dominance of the plant kingdom is seldom recognized. In a plant-dominated biosphere, it is possible that nature has become so amorphous and peripheral because of the way that plants (synonymous with nature) are themselves perceived. A long overdue study on human-plant perceptions and relationships is crucial therefore for understanding how we treat the natural world.

Here I will base such a study on an extended investigation of the cultural and philosophical orientations that are critically important in human considerations of the natural world. Philosopher Erazim Kohák has coined the term philosophical ecology to articulate the need to incorporate these considerations within environmental discourse. This text applies the idea of a philosophical ecology to the botanical world and avers that a study of different cultural-philosophical perceptions of the plant kingdom is crucial for developing more ethical relationships with the plant kingdom. By examining a variety of contrasting cosmologies, philosophies, and metaphysical systems that deal explicitly with plants, one of the main aims of this study is to uncover how and where plants are placed within a variety of human worldviews. In doing so, it will dissect how these plant philosophies determine the overriding relationships that human beings have with the plants they live amongst. An important aspect of this task is an extended analysis of the processes by which plants find themselves included or excluded within the realm of human general and moral consideration.

The task is to survey a number of plant knowledges in order to uncover the most appropriate human rendering of plant life. At a time when many plant species and indeed the natural world itself, are threatened by human activity, this study also aims to locate the most appropriate human behavior toward plants. This dual approach is again set within the parameters of Kohák's philosophical ecology. Its thrust follows Kola in his search for the most appropriate "manners of speaking" rather than looking for a "positive description of a univocal 'metaphysical' reality."

Within the context of an anthropogenic ecological crisis, the choice between different modes of perception and action is an important one. Human life is contingent upon the existence of plants. Throughout this work, I repeat the assertion that our general, Western, view of plants as passive resources certainly plays a significant role in our ecological plight. Finding a more appropriate way of approaching plant life could underpin a mode of human action that maintains, rather than threatens, biospheric integrity. By surveying a number of cultural and philosophical sources, the aim of this work is to incorporate cultural and metaphysical influences into botanical studies—perhaps the rendering of a more philosophical botany.

Throughout the pages of this book, I search for the most appropriate behavior toward plants in a time of impending ecological collapse. This broad approach resonates with Freya Mathews's idea, that we "must draw on as wide a range of cultures as possible" in order to develop complex ethical solutions to environmental problems. The point is not to appropriate other knowledge systems, nor elevate one worldview as best, but to investigate a number of world-views in order to generate ideas and strategies for more appropriate ecological behavior in a Western context. As Eliot Deutsch makes clear, we don't turn to different cultural ideas "for a better scientific understanding of nature . . . but for different ontological perspectives and moral ideals that might influence our own thinking."

By working with a number of small case studies, this survey will construct a meta-narrative, examining the influential factors and the processes that determine how plants come to be placed within particular worldviews. When questioning human perceptions of and behavior toward the plant world, it is clear from the outset that Erazim Kohák is onto something. Cultural-philosophical ideas strongly influence human interactions with the plant kingdom, and humanity possesses a multitude of different ways of thinking about and acting toward plants. The following chapters analyze contrasting modes of perceiving and behaving toward plants. For clarity, I have split these modes of perception into broadly defined philosophies of exclusion and philosophies of inclusion.


The first three chapters tackle the marginalization of plants using the themes of radical separation, zoocentrism (an animal-centered outlook), exclusion, and hierarchical value ordering. These chapters argue that these notions predominate in Western discussions of plant ontology. In the terms of the scholar Mikhail Bakhtin, such approaches to life can be broadly classified as monological. For Bakhtin monologue does not recognize the voice or presence of the other; it "is finalized and deaf to the other's response, does not expect it and does not acknowledge it any decisive force. Monologue manages without the other. . . ."

The question of the human marginalization of plants has started to receive some attention in the botanical sciences. In a seminal study of plant physiology, vegetation ecologist Francis Halle starts with the presumption that human beings are ignorant of the biosphere's plant life. He contends that the majority of people are "generally poorly acquainted with plants, looking down on them or simply ignoring them." In the same vein, botanists and environmental educators Wandersee and Schussler have written of the phenomena of plant blindness, the literal ignorance of plants by human beings and their spontaneous preference for animal life. According to the authors, some of the symptoms of this widespread "disease" are:

  • Failing to see, take notice of, or focus attention on the plants in one's life.
  • Thinking that plants are simply the background for animal life.
  • Overlooking the importance of plants to human life.
  • Misunderstanding the differing time scales of plant and animal activity.

Halle postulates that human beings place little value on plant life because of a prevailing zoocentrism or anthropocentrism. This stems from the fact that human beings do not as readily identify with plants as with animals and that humans lack a spontaneous appreciation of the plant's physiological workings. Although we are surrounded by plants and cultivate them fanatically in our gardens, he regards plants as being in a state of "absolute otherness" to human beings, by which he means that plants operate their lives in vastly different ways to the animal Homo sapiens. Halle has attempted to correct this situation by increasing the knowledge of plant physiologies and life histories, focussing on the ways in which plants differ significantly from the human and the animal.

From a similar understanding of the problem, Wandersee and Schussler have attempted to explain the ignorance toward plants and a prevailing zoocentrism through an analysis of the psycho-optical prejudices in animals. Lack of knowledge of plants, the general similarity of plant surfaces and textures, the lack of movement in plants, and the fact that plants do not prey on humans are all put forward as possible reasons for the phenomenon of plant blindness. In a more recent paper, Wandersee and Clary make it clear that they regard the neglect and ignorance of plants to be symptoms of an underlying physiological bias:

In challenging the conventional wisdom, we have proposed that those first three behaviors zoocentrism, zoochauvinism, plant neglect are actually symptoms of the default condition of plant blindness arising from how the human eye-brain system typically processes and attends to visual information. . . .

While these botanists have strongly articulated the problem of plant ignorance, their analyses of its causes remain incomplete. They have identified the problem of a zoocentric attitude toward plants, yet the reasons they provide for its existence are potentially misleading. By positing a physiological basis to this problem, they implicitly suggest that such a zoocentric attitude is in a sense natural and inevitable for all human beings. I argue that the marginalization that characterizes Western thought is neither natural nor inevitable. Zoocentrism does not emerge from physiology, but is largely a cultural-philosophical attitude. The fundamental mistake here is the assumption that this zoocentrism found in Western society pervades all cultural ideas and actions toward the plant kingdom. This closed stance leaves little room for the recognition of alternative approaches.

The opening three chapters deal with broadly Western streams of thought, and each chapter clearly demonstrates the predominance of zoocentric perspectives. Here, my key arguments are that the insignificance of plants in contemporary Western society identified by Halle et al. is partly generated from a drive toward separation, exclusion, and hierarchy. My analysis focuses on the bases for such ideas, the processes by which they have been solidified, and the outcome for human behavior toward plants.

The material in the first three chapters agrees with Hallé's recognition that Western societies have a predominantly zoocentric vision, but differs in its claims that zoocentrism is a deliberate philosophical strategy for marginalizing and excluding plants. Zoocentrism is a method for achieving the exclusion of plants from relationships of moral consideration. For want of a better term, it is a political tool in an exclusionary process in which "the Other becomes a negative necessity, that which must be set apart and kept apart for one's own self of collective self to be sustained."

 Zoocentrism thus helps to maintain human notions of superiority over the plant kingdom in order that plants may be dominated. It is a crucial dualising force, responsible for depicting plants as inferior beings and as the natural base of a human-dominated hierarchy.

Along with the dualisms identified by Plumwood, constructing a rigid hierarchy in which those at the top have more value is fundamental to encouraging radical separation of different groups and to justifying a logic of domination by the upper echelons of the hierarchy.31 In the field of social ecology, Murray Bookchin has identified the construction of human hierarchies as the justificatory basis of dominance by one human group over another. In ecofeminist theory, Karen Warren has identified value-hierarchical thinking as part of an oppressive conceptual framework that "functions to explain, maintain, and 'justify' relationships of unjustified domination and subordination." This separation and value-ordering is a crucial part of the general drive toward excluding plants from human consideration. This trend is very important to uncover and ultimately redress, for exclusion is "an act of intellectual violence; and it is the attitude that drives collective and systematic physical violence." The intellectual violence of backgrounding plants and denying their sentience can be said to underpin the "occupation, appropriation, and commodification" of the plant kingdom and thus the wider natural world.

In considering Western attitudes toward plants, this hierarchical ordering based upon the construction of exclusionary, "oppositional value dualisms" is predominant in some of the Western world's most influential, penetrating philosophies. Chapter 1 deals with the construction of hierarchies in the natural world, and the dualistic treatment of plant abilities and faculties within the philosophical tradition of the ancient Greeks. The analysis of these constructions begins with Plato, who defined plants from a dualistic zoocentric perspective and asserted that plants were created expressly for the use of human beings. This approach was perpetuated by Aristotle. Aristotle judged the abilities of plants on the basis of what he had observed in animals, rather than considering plants on their own terms. Aristotle constructed a hierarchy of life with plants placed firmly at the bottom. Underpinning this hierarchy, plants were rendered radically different from animals, regarded to lack the faculties of sensation and of intellect. Such hierarchical ordering demonstrates a drive toward separation; one that is based upon removing continuities from plant and human life. This is a stance which solidifies exclusion.

One of the key features of Chapter 1 is that it explores the effect of perspective and intent on the human approach to plant life. It contrasts Aristotle's hierarchical ordering, his drive toward separation and exclusion by removing human-plant continuities, with the work of his pupil Theophrastus. Examining the Theophrastean perspective, Chapter 1 reveals that this stance of exclusion is neither natural nor inevitable. It is human intent, rather than the differing physiology of plants which creates radical exclusion.

In contrast to Aristotle, the work of Theophrastus attempts to treat plants on their own terms and emphasizes their relatedness and connectedness to humanity. Such an approach to plant life is very similar to that found in ancient Greek mythology and the surviving fragments of pagan traditions across Europe. It is apparent in the work of Theophrastus that rather than exclusion, his orientation was toward inclusiveness and consideration. The result of this difference in intent is phenomenal. Instead of regarding plants as passive beings lacking sensation and intellect, Theophrastus related to plants as volitional, minded, intentional creatures that clearly demonstrate their own autonomy and purpose in life. For Theophrastus, plants demonstrated their own purpose and desire to flourish through their choice of habitats and the production of seed and fruit.

Chapter 2 explores some of the reasons why the predominant Western treatment of plants more closely resembles that of Aristotle rather than Theophrastus. Although he had a great impact on the development of large parts of botany, it is unfortunate that Theophrastus's philosophical orientation was not followed or developed. This chapter deals with disappearance of Theophrastus's insights, the predominance of Aristotle's hierarchical philosophy and the analysis of zoocentrism in botanical history in greater depth. In particular it examines how readily a hierarchical approach to plants has been retained in the botanical sciences, with plants increasingly excluded on the basis of ancient zoocentric philosophy. One of its most important points is that the systematic devaluation of such a large part of the natural world had been occurring long before Cartesian philosophy and the rise of an industrial mechanistic atomism.

Chapter 3 continues the theme of hierarchies and looks at the interpretation of plants within Christian theological sources, specifically biblical material and the writings of prominent theologians. It is clear that biblical texts also construct plant life as radically different to humans and animals. In the biblical creation stories, there is a further drive toward emphasizing the differences and rejecting the continuities between plants and humans. Although plants display the characteristics of other living beings such as growth and death, they are not considered to be alive. While the possibility exists for a more inclusive approach to plant life on a number of criteria, they are instead separated from the rest of the living world on the basis that they lack the "breath of God." This treatment strips the plant world of both life and any possibility of autonomy. As a result, within Christian theological material, relationships with plants can be characterized predominantly as instrumental relationships, based upon the usefulness of plants to human beings. Plants are placed at the bottom of a hierarchy of the natural world and are excluded from human moral consideration.

In the writings of later theologians, the vitality of plants is accepted but the hierarchical view of life is continued, maintaining the instrumental mode of human-plant relationships. There is a tension here between the recognition of plants as living beings and the need to kill plants on a daily basis to survive. Rather than acknowledge this killing, and face possible limits to human action, these hierarchies suppress it. They do this by finding other ways to construct radical difference in order to render plants as peripherally insignificant, thus furthering the logic of domination. The hierarchy that is presented in biblical creation stories is solidified using similar ideas from the Greek philosophical tradition. In particular, Aristotle's rendering of plants without intellect, was used by Christian theologians to deny plants the possession of a soul.

Chapters 1, 2, and 3 demonstrate that the predominant Western relationships with plants are instrumental and hierarchical, and that the drive toward separation is based upon the systematic devaluation of the lowliest parts of the hierarchy. Fundamentally, these are the processes that deny moral consideration to plants. Exclusion is both based upon, and furthers, the denial of plant presence and sentience. Ultimately it denies life and death. This is a denial that renders plants as passive entities and which compellingly reinforces separation and difference. In biblical thought, as well as in Plato and Aristotle, hierarchies are built around the issue of use and violence.


The treatment of, and response to, plant life and death pervades the majority of the following chapters. Chapter 4 links the case studies already outlined with those that deal with inclusion and connection. As well as inclusion and connection, Chapter 4 also introduces the general themes of heterarchy and dialogue. Like monologue, here dialogue is defined in Bakhtinian terms—principally the recognition of the other's "voice," standpoint, and presence during interaction.

Along with a drive to treat plants on their own terms, these themes of inclusion pervade the remainder of the chapters in this work. Chapter 4 is the longest as it acts both as a counterpoint and a companion to the first three chapters. Containing a number of conflicting viewpoints, bifurcations, and ambiguities—it is also a companion to the chapters which follow. Valuably, it allows examinations of contrasting processes, which lead to diverging attitudes toward the plant world.

In Chapter 4, I turn toward a consideration of Hindu scriptural sources. Although far from exhaustive, even my limited reading of these scriptures demonstrates that plants are not universally subject to hierarchical separation. In important Hindu texts, plants are described as fully sentient beings with their own attributes of mentality. Significantly, in death, the portrayal of reincarnating souls in the Upanisads ontologically connects the plant, human, and animal worlds. The interpenetration of these existences engenders the recognition that it is possible for human beings to act violently toward all these types of beings. In the case of plants, this manifests in the human ethical ideal of acting nonviolently toward them.

From this broad philosophical basis, a primary bifurcation between Jainism and Buddhism can be detected. Jain philosophy echoes the general approach of the Hindu scriptures and is a practical example of the systematic application of the philosophy of nonviolence in all dealings with the plant world. Jain philosophy is particularly significant for its prominent inclusion of nonhuman interests within the sphere of human consideration. Jainism seeks affinity with plants, thus fostering nonviolence. Significantly it allows plants space to flourish.

In contrast, although Buddhist cosmology is not inherently hierarchical, in some Buddhist schools, a hierarchy has developed that privileges animals over plants. Certain schools of Buddhism have veered way from the recognition of plants as living, sentient beings, and have neglected them in questions of moral consideration. In this analysis, the work of Buddhist scholar Lambert Schmithausen is particularly important for pinpointing the source of this omission. For Schmithausen, plants have been backgrounded in Buddhist philosophy primarily because of the wish to avoid the explicit recognition of violence. This repressed recognition of violence done toward plants is a crucial point. Importantly, Chapter 4 introduces the idea that this process of philosophical devaluation is not confined to the West. From a position of ambiguity on plant violence, a number of Buddhist schools have developed zoocentric criteria for ethical inclusion and have placed plants outside the realm of sentient life.

Interestingly however, the Buddhist tradition also contains a very different philosophical approach toward plants, suggesting that from a plant point of view there is no single Buddhist tradition. Rather than positioning plants as inferior to animal life, scholars within East Asian Buddhism have sometimes come to regard plant life as superior both in capability and worth. This is an important position because it allows a discussion of the subtle turning points that have produced radically contrasting perceptions of plants within the same general metaphysical framework. Again, it is important to question intent. East Asian Buddhist texts demonstrate a more empathetic rendering of plant life because they directly attempt to expand upon the clear evidence for plant sentience. This is an example of an explicit turning away from the established dogma of inferiority. It is open to interpretation however, whether this direct attempt to turn toward other beings is also an attempt to relate with them using appropriate criteria and include them within the realm of human moral consideration.

While a more empathetic approach to plant life appears in East Asian Buddhism, studies on Indigenous knowledges demonstrate that perhaps there are more appropriateways of relating with plants.42 Indeed it is my contention that as they are often directed at living life in appropriate relationships, Indigenous sources provide the most significant material to contrast with worldviews that seek to exclude plants. Drawing on the work of animist scholars Irving Hallowell, Nurit Bird-David, and Graham Harvey, Chapter 4 draws another important contrast. This is between Western backgrounding of plants and the Indigenous peoples who relate to plants as other-than-human persons.

Chapter 5 introduces the themes of personhood, flourishing, and kinship. From a basis that all beings are related, many Indigenous peoples regard plants as beings that possess awareness, intelligence, volition, and communication. Plants are regarded as beings that are capable of flourishing and of being harmed.

Plants are of course acknowledged as being different from human beings. They have different ways of going about their lives and have different needs from human beings. They deserve their own taxonomic category. However, there is no radical ontological schism between plants, animals, or humans. Plants are not zoocentrically dualised as inferior and are not placed at the bottom of a natural value-ordered hierarchy.

The autonomy of plants and their heterarchical relationship to us is recognized. Plants are regarded as kin, and are incorporated into general and specific kinship relationships—relationships of caring or solidarity, which are often "based on consubstantiality."45 This approach to plants is coupled with a strong recognition that plants are different to human beings.46 This difference is most strongly expressed in the act of predation. In a similar way to the ancient Indian material, Indigenous peoples recognize that the act of using plants is often an act of violence. Unlike in the biblical and Greek materials, recognition of the necessity of violence does not negate the recognition of personhood. Instead, the necessity of eating other-than-human persons is accepted, but like in Indian religions, ways are sought to mitigate the damage done to other beings.

As Chapter 5 discusses, to place plants in the ontological category of persons is neither fanciful nor deluded. The inclusion of plants in relationships of care is based upon close observation of plant life history and the recognition of shared attributes between all beings. Again, intent is paramount. This is a deliberate structuring of relationships in a heterarchy rather than a hierarchy. It is recognition of connectedness in the face of alterity—what Deborah Bird Rose has termed the "indigenous ethic of connection." For plants at least, this contrasts sharply with what could be termed a Western ethic of exclusion.

One of the most important points in this text is that contrasting ways of understanding plant life can not be adequately split along easily demarcated lines. As has been noted, the case study of Buddhism shows that we must avoid constructing East-West dualisms. Similarly, Chapter 6 shows that an Indigenous-Western dualism is also flawed. An important component of this chapter is its recognition of the way in which contemporary European Pagans are also developing a more inclusive, more kinship based, less zoocentric relationship with plants. As seen in the Buddhism case study, this is another intentional turning away from zoocentrism, and has been inspired by engagement with Indigenous knowledges as well as ancient pagan sources.

Some of these ancient pagan sources are discussed in Chapter 6. The main argument in this chapter is that the fragmentary evidence from preChristian/Aristotelian Europe also depicts recognition of substantial kinship links between all beings in the biosphere. Using insights from contemporary animist scholarship, it is apparent that many pagan sources treat plants as fundamentally autonomous, volitional, communicative, relational beings. The notions of plant personhood and human-plant kinship are expressed in stories, poems, and myths. Common expressions of personhood and kinship are metamorphoses from human form to plant form. Unlike in the streams of thought that supplanted paganism, violence toward plants is acknowledged in several pagan texts. Chapter 6 puts forward the possibility that Western culture may have once have had a more appropriate way of relating to plants than that provided by zoocentric philosophies.

Perhaps the most interesting finding of this study is that recognition of many of the attributes of plant personhood and human-plant kinship is not restricted to the domain of religious studies. Chapter 7 argues that since the early nineteenth century, scientific evidence has steadily accrued which directly contradicts the hierarchy of nature. From Charles Darwin's early experimental work on the sensitive plant Mimosa pudica L., over a century of scientific observations contradict the notion that plants are passive, insensitive beings. Through nastic movements and tropic growth responses, plants have been shown for decades to display sensitive, purposeful, volitional behavior. Darwin's most important work On the Origin of Species also implicitly contains the idea that humans and plants are indeed related by descent.

Darwin's experimental work has also provided the platform for the development of the field of plant signalling. This area of plant science is outlined in Chapter 7 and is particularly interesting because it demonstrates that plants engage in abundant communication, both within their own bodies and with the beings in their environment. By evaluating plants on their own terms, it has also led to the development of the groundbreaking concept of plant intelligence. Plant intelligence's most vocal proponent, Tony Trewavas, argues that plants are increasingly being shown to demonstrate more sophisticated aspects of mentality such as reasoning and choice. Instead of displaying this through movement, plants differ from animals by using phenotypic plasticity to express behavior.

Another exciting development in contemporary scientific research is the accrual of evidence demonstrating that plants have the physiology to support sophisticated mental activity. As Darwin first discovered, there is increasing evidence that this intelligent behavior is directed by a multitude of brain like entities known as meristems. The work of Frantisek Baluska, Stefano Mancuso, and others in the nascent field of plant neurobiology is putting forward the notion that plants have sophisticated, decentralized neurosensory systems. Buried within contemporary plant science literature is a growing awareness that plant behavior has many of the hallmarks of mentality. Such pioneering scientific work in many ways echoes the recognition of the attributes of sentience and person-hood that have long been pinpointed in Indian religious thought and Indigenous knowledge systems.

Chapter 7 takes a systems approach to matters of mind, avoiding Cartesian dualisms in order to describe how plants and humans share a basic, ontological reality as perceptive, aware, autonomous, self-governed, and intelligent beings.

Like other living beings, plants actively live and seek to flourish. They are self organized and self created as a result of interactions with their environment.

The emergence of this evidence within a culture dominated by the findings of science adds great weight to the claim that our general perception and treatment of plants is both inaccurate and inappropriate. It also indicates the appropriateness of other philosophical traditions that relate to plants in inclusive, nonhierarchical, dialogical ways. In the words of Andrew Brennan, it provides "a context within which an attitude of care about natural things makes sense."

The sceptic can of course ignore this accumulated knowledge and continue to exclude plants from moral consideration, but this option comes loaded with environmental consequences. Moreover, with an awareness that plants are autonomous subjects, continued instrumental exclusion must be viewed as deliberate disrespect. As Plumwood eloquently states, "We do them an injustice when we treat them as less than they are, destroy them without compunction, see them as nothing more than potential lumber, woodchips or fuel for our needs. . .."


With guidance from animistic cultures and the evidence from contemporary plant sciences, the latter stages of this study argues for recognizing plants as subjects deserving of respect as other-than-human persons. It advocates including plants within human ethical awareness with a view to Callicott's reminder that "an ethic is never perfectly realized on a collective scale and very rarely on an individual scale. An ethic constitutes, rather, an ideal of human behavior." In the pages of this work, this ideal human behavior is grounded in a particular understanding of morality. Although there are many understandings of morality, most share the notion of right conduct toward others. In view of our Earthly kinship with both human and other-than-human persons and the interactions between these persons which allows life on Earth to thrive, discussions of ethics in this work are rooted in the recognition of these relationships.52 Moral consideration in this respect is simply considering the flourishing of the other beings in our lives. In an ecological context, moral action is enacted respect and responsibility for the well-being of the others with whom we share the Earth.

The concluding chapter examines the implications of a new awareness of plant life and the development of a Western idea of plant personhood. Taking the findings of this study to their logical conclusion, the recognition of plants as autonomous, perceptive, intelligent beings must filter into our dealings with the plant world. Maintaining purely instrumental relationships with plants no longer fits the evidence that we have of plant attributes, characteristics, and life histories—and the interconnectedness of life on Earth. From another angle, conserving the natural environment is no longer sufficiently served by an anthropocentric account nor a zoocentric account of moral consideration. A stronger account of moral consideration centered on the other-than-human rather than human is needed in order to both evaluate and prevent the occurrence of "environmentally destructive human action that has little or no [immediate] negative effect on human beings." In contrast with the focus of animal rights theory, in a biosphere dominated by plants, this turning toward the other-than-human cannot be at the implicit exclusion of plants from the class of morally considerable beings.

The concluding chapter discusses how this developed idea of plant person-hood could become manifest in human moral behavior toward the plant kingdom and nature as a whole. Under the influence of Erazim Kohák, and the ethical theories of Zygmunt Bauman, the purpose of the concluding chapter is not to construct a list of proofs for moral consideration nor a system of ethical rules toward plants. Rather, its purpose is to discuss the possibilities for including plants within the realm of moral consideration; for the sake of individual plants and plant species and for those animals and humans whose lives depend on their survival.

Purely instrumental relationships with plants are found to be ecologically destructive. The backgrounding of plants is dangerous because it severs opportunities for dialogical interaction between humans and the environments in which they live. Lacking in meaningful relationships of kinship, care, and solidarity, we risk complete human ecological dislocation. As Plumwood astutely observes, by distancing ourselves from the beings around us "we not only lose the ability to empathize and to see the non-human sphere in ethical terms, but also . . . get a false sense of our own character and location that includes an illusory sense of autonomy."

By distancing ourselves from plants and denying their autonomy, we jeopardize a true sense of human identity, situatedness, and responsibility. Only in the company of others do we arrive at the true sense of our own personhood and ecological identity. The risk we run by ignoring the personhood of plants is losing sight of the knowledge that we humans are dependent ecological beings. We risk the complete severance of our connections with the other beings in the natural world—a process which only serves to strengthen and deepen our capacity for destructive ecological behavior. This is humanity's worst type of violence.

The concluding chapter also argues that one way to work toward restoring care-based human-plant relationships is through ecological restoration. With a revolutionised understanding of plants, restoring plant habitats can be a powerful and direct method for engaging in dialogue with plants as individuals, species, and communities. Here the idea of dialogue is based on the thinking of the scholar Mikhail Bakhtin. Again in the terms of Bakhtin, one of the defining essences of dialogue is that "unlike monologue [it] is multivocal, that is, it is characterised by the presence of two distinct voices."

Dialogue allows the recognition of the others "voice," standpoint, and needs.° One of the ways in which human beings can enact dialogue with plants is to give them the space they need to thrive and communicate with the world around them. In restoration, the needs of plants can be put first, and dialogue can ensue in the space that restoration creates. Because of the often fragile nature of restored ecosystems, restoring plant habitats is perhaps the best way of actively reestablishing personal care-based relationships with plants. In this way, restoration can be be viewed as a way of engaging in an active dialogue with plants, in which their voices come first.

A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees.'
The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. —William Blake

Based upon Erazim Kohák's insight that cultural perceptions are crucial matters in questions of ecology, the preceding chapters have discussed human perceptions of, and relationships with plants, using a wealth of material from a variety of worldviews. My analysis of Western philosophical and religious writings makes it clear that the Western attitude toward plants is zoocentric and hierarchical. A feature of such hierarchies is that they arise in conjunction with the need to justify untrammelled human resource use—the emergence of hierarchy precedes the act of domination. It precedes acts of commodification and ownership. In order to maintain hierarchical ordering, the continuity of life has been ignored in favor of constructing sharp discontinuities between humans, plants, and animals. Shared characteristics such as life and growth have been rejected in order to focus on the gross differences.

The stress on discontinuities between humans and nature is characteristic of Western thought. But along with the usual suspects of mechanism and atomism, we can point to the backgrounding of plants as a key element in human separation from nature. Even within the environmental movement, pioneering studies which have done much to champion the causes of nonhumans (including much animal rights theory) are predicated on the basis that moral consideration should not be given to plants. In the work of Peter Singer, plants are excluded because of the presumption that they lead a "subjectively barren existence."  Such processes of exclusion are the grounds for the undervaluation of plants in Western society.


Through several chapters, I have shown that many of the criteria signifying moral considerability can be located in the plant kingdom. Close observation of plant life-history demonstrates that plants are communicative, relational beings—beings that influence and are influenced by their environment. They also reveal that plants have their own purposes, intricately connected with finding food and producing offspring. Like other living beings, plants attempt to maintain their own integrity in changing environmental conditions. Plants display intelligent behavior in order to maximize both their growth and the production of offspring.

Despite these findings, I do not wish to argue for moral considerability based upon provable criteria. A drawback with approaches that attempt to prove moral considerability is that they struggle with the infamous gulf between questions of fact and the impetus for moral action, the "is-ought" gap identified by David Hume. Within the Western ethical framework, the fact that a plant or animal has interests or intrinsic value does not automatically require those intrinsic values to be respected. This is a well recognized gap between a factual description of a being's attributes and the need to subscribe to an ethics that takes these into consideration. As Karen Warren notes, this gap leaves ample room for scepticism.

Instead of trying to prove the existence of criteria, I base the recognition of plants as morally considerable upon the ground of Erazim Kohák's philosophical ecology. Grounded in phenomenology, for Kohák, a description of reality is not a true, definitive description; it is not something that can be ultimately proven. Instead, it must be conceived as a "manner of speaking" about the world because "reality is always what it is and it is vastly more than we can say about it." In this view, different "manners of speaking" are impossible to prove as "true." This is because "Reality in itself abstracted from all lived experience, could have no meaning. Meaning is a relational reality." Truth and meaning require experiencing subjects. In this phenomenological understanding, "manners of speaking" are not objective truths, but nor are they "mere descriptions"; they are "modes of interacting with reality—which render our world meaningful and guide our actions therein."

Because of the effect that "manners of speaking" have on the way we approach the world, the differences between them are differences that matter. Each choice paves the way for different modes of relating with the world—leading to very different ends. In this context, we have a choice between "treating trees as raw materials or treating them with respect." Instead of attempting to prove that one way or another is right, Kohák simply insists that the notion of appropriateness should guide our choice. In an ecological context, if we wish for health and well-being, then appropriate ways of relating to other beings are those that increase connectivity and allow the growth and continued existence of individuals, species, and ecosystems. Purely instrumental relationships clearly do not fulfill the criteria of ecological appropriateness. By removing limits to the actions of human beings, purely instrumental relationships are one of the major drivers of ecologically destructive behavior. Our wholly instrumental relationships with plant life are inappropriate because they are a very significant contributor to the current anthropogenic environmental predicament.

In the Death of Nature, Caroline Merchant asserts that the development of the idea that nature was passive rendered it freely open to manipulation by Western societies. Here I put forward a similar analysis based on the plant kingdom, bearing in mind that plants underpin life on Earth and form a large part of the biotic and abiotic sphere, which is commonly understood as nature. Although there are many complex drivers of environmental degradation, a worldview that regards plants primarily as resource-objects, as materials, is influential. As Plum-wood writes, if "nature is a passive field for human endeavour" then it is "totally available for its owners remaking as they see fit." With the knowledge that plants form the basis of natural ecosystems, one of the reasons why nature is a passive field for human endeavor, is that plants themselves have been rendered as passive objects—totally available for unrestrained use by human beings.

This lack of care and respect toward plants has significant environmental effects. The continued alteration and destruction of natural habitats by human beings is one of the major drivers of environmental degradation, species extinction, and global climatic change. Natural habitats are predominantly plant habitats. Natural habitats are populations of plants that exist in relationships of mutual benefit with the birds, fungi, bacteria, reptiles, mammals, humans, and other species. Our ecologically inappropriate behavior toward plants is exemplified by the fact that the rate of habitat clearance by humans is at its historical maximum.

During the last three centuries, twelve million km2 of forests and woodlands have been cleared; five million km2 of grasslands have been lost; while cropland areas have grown by twelve million km2.19 While the extent of temperate forest vegetation shows signs of recovery, tropical forest destruction proceeds at 130,000 km2 per year." This assault on plant habitats now directly threatens between 20 to 30 percent of plant species and up to 40 percent of all species with extinction. As a primary driver of global climatic change, it also indirectly threatens biospheric integrity—with an early IPCC report estimating that "about 10 to 30% of the current total anthropogenic emissions of CO2 are . . . caused by land-use conversion."

Purely instrumental human-plant relationships are ecologically inappropriate, but they are also inappropriate on the basis of their degree of fit to the available evidence. Although a purely objective truth is not possible to attain, the most appropriate way of relating should also be the mode of relating that best „fits the evidence from the world around us.

Rather than confirming the idea of plants as passive resources, Chapter 7 has demonstrated that the plant sciences contain a wealth of data that indicates the existence and expression of autonomy and intelligence—attributes shared between plants, animals, and human beings. In recognition of these characteristics, treating plants with moral consideration is simply more appropriate than relating to them solely within the old instrumental framework. Perceiving and relating to them as passive resources is outdated and rests ultimately on inadequate observations. Our alternative evidence shows that incorporating plants within the realm of moral considerability is neither fanciful nor misguided. Giving moral consideration to plants is more appropriate than perpetuating their exclusion.


Considering the range of cultural traditions already surveyed shows the existence of numerous paths to moral relationships with plants and numerous examples of what moral relationships with plants actually entail.

Ancient Indian texts recognize an ecological and karmic link between plants, humans, and animals. Plants are recognized as living, sentient beings with their own purposes and goals. Therefore, plants are considered to be within the realm of moral responsibility, and are appropriate recipients of compassion and nonviolent conduct (ahimsa). In the Jain tradition, the ethical ideals of compassion and nonviolence are taken to their logical ends. For Jainas, the killing of any sentient being is a violent deed (it acquires negative karma). Killing plants is not the same as killing a human being, but killing plants is still considered to be violent. Therefore, only the killing of the minimum number of plants required for human subsistence is ethically acceptable. In particular, this extends into choices about plants used for food, and the need to avoid wasting plants that have been killed.

Indigenous societies (including pagan societies) share notions of kinship based upon shared Earthly heritage and substance:

Animals like family to us.
Earth our mother,
Eagle our cousin,
Tree is pumping blood like us.
We all one.

On the basis that plants clearly demonstrate self-directed growth, the communicative, sentient, intelligent nature of plants is also established. This is the recognition of plants as other-than-human persons—a powerful way of incorporating plants within social and moral relationships of care and nurturing Yet, unlike in the animal rights theory of Francione, persons are not exempt from use, a fact which has important consequences. With plants as persons, there can be no "substantial outclass of living beings that are morally excluded in order to locate any viable form of eating which allows an ethical basis for human survival." Uncomfortable or not, there is no dualistic separation of personhood and use. Human persons must act harmfully toward plant persons in order to live and the necessary harm done to plant and animal persons is accepted, ritualized and celebrated as a fact of being alive.26 The elegance of this acceptance is that it then acts as one of the principal driving forces behind respectful relationships. Typically, this manifests in the conviction to only harm plant persons when necessary and to encourage the growth of plants where possible.


Dialogical engagement helps form the social relationships which are the root of moral consideration and moral action toward plants. In dialogue, "the parties form a unity of conversation, but only through two clearly differentiated voices" and so "dialogue, unlike monologue is multivocal, that is, it is characterised by the presence of two distinct voices." Therefore, to bring about dialogue, the autonomous, communicative prescence of nonhumans needs to be recognized and affirmed.

In the biosphere, dialogue involves plants establishing connections between communicating species, and these connections often allow the blossoming of life, both for the self and for others. A good example of this dialogue is provided by the ecological interactions of the bilberry (or blueberry), Vaccinium myrtillus L. Below ground, as with other ericaceous species, bilberry has mutualistic mycorhizal associations with fungal symbionts. Studies of these Vaccinium associations with mycorhizal species such as Pezicula myrtillina P.Karst and Phyllosticta pyrolae (Ehrenb.) Allesch. have demonstrated that the host plant can benefit from increased phosphate and nitrogen uptake, while the fungus benefits by receiving sugars from photosynthesis.

Aboveground, connectivities between bilberry and others center primarily on flowering and fruiting, which are integral to plant dialogue. The bilberry's pendulous flowers are pollinated by bumblebees, honeybees, moths, and syrphid flies. These pollinators are attracted by the maturation of the flower, a signal that nectar and pollen is being produced. Although bilberry can spread vegetatively, pollination by these insects aids sexual reproduction and the maintenance of genetic diversity in the species. This pollination relationship is mutually beneficial, as are relationships that revolve around fruit and seed. Once bilberry fruits have signalled that they are mature, they are eaten by many birds—including grouse, partridge, pheasant, and ptarmigan. The fruits are also one of the main foods of the capercaillie and during the summer also compose a large part of the diet of brown bears in mainland Europe. The dispersal of bilberry seeds by these animals ensures mutual benefits accrue from these cross-species interactions.

In these interactions, we can detect the multiplicity of actors and voices that characterizes dialogical relationships. For a study focussed on human-plant relationships, Bakhtin's model of dialogue makes it clear that human-plant dialogue is only possible where this multiplicity of plant voices is recognized. Therefore, from a human point of view, human-plant dialogues must be based upon allowing plant "voices" to be heard and plant presence to be felt. In this respect, Basho's advice to avoid imposing the human perspective on plant life must underpin human dialogue with nature.

Animist traditions show that plant "voices" can be transmitted through narratives in which other-than-human persons are featured. Situated stories, songs, and poems can be powerful aids to the recognition of autonomy and personhood in the plant kingdom. Ritual enactment of our kinship relationships with other-than-humans is another powerful way for human persons to lose the "false sense of themselves as superior." It is important, however, that while expressing the human side of dialogue, we also allow others to "speak" for themselves. Otherwise we risk falling back into destructive monologues.

Allowing plant "voices" to be heard entails approaching plants with openness and allowing plants to flourish. Working for the benefit of plants is, therefore, a direct way to build more dialogical human-plant relationships, which ultimately result in moral consideration and action. As Deborah Rose explains, "A dialogical approach to connection impels one to work to realize the wellbeing of others. . . . The path to connection, therefore, does not seek connection, but rather seeks to enable the flourishing of others."

In the context of an anthropogenic ecological crisis, dialogical relationships can not remain theoretical formulations; they must become direct action. Human dialogue with plants should both recognize the other-than-human person and strive to introduce reparations that both acknowledge past violence and aim to lessen future violence. It may be the case that "the first thing a philosopher says to a tree is sorry," but apologies to the plant kingdom need to go further. Respectful, moral relationships with plants need to be manifested in our behavior.


Working toward the flourishing of plants as individuals and as aggregates such as species and communities, represents an opportunity for biospheric repair. Yet, here there is an unavoidable encounter between competing interests, as Chris Cuomo says, "some flourishing must always be sacrificed for the flourishing of others." However, dialogical relationships involving humans recognize the perspective of the other and are aware of when the other been harmed. They are empathetic in the sense of perceiving "the other as being another center of orientation in a common spatial world." In an ecological context, we must balance the recognition of harm done to individuals with that done to entities such as species and communities. It may be more ecologically appropriate to maintain diversity and stability in communities, but this does not preclude the recognition of individual harm. An awareness of the capacity for individual flourishing to be violated helps sustain mutually beneficial cross-kingdom connections, thus preventing the greater violence of dislocation and disconnection."

Seeking to enable the well-being of individual plants, plant species, and communities is also a considerable challenge because the interests of human beings repeatedly impact upon the well-being of plants.45 In this area of contestation, working toward the well-being of plants firstly demands limits on human claims. Ecological reality dictates that humans must use plants to sustain human life. However, if we commit to working for their well-being, we must first recognize that often our use of plants violates the purposes of plant life. Often, our use of plants for food, for medicines or fuel requires committing harm to or killing aware, intelligent, and perceptive beings that seek to live and thrive in the same way as other living beings.

Perhaps the first way in which this can be lessened is by examining and reforming our use of plants. As exemplified by the Jain and Indigenous traditions, taking plant welfare into consideration must force us to examine our individual consumption of the most ubiquitous plant products such as food, paper, wood, and medicines. The ubiquity of plant usage renders it impractical for anyone to construct an exhaustive list of instances where harm to plants may be mitigated. However, there are several key areas where an ethic of dialogical respect can begin to focus. These overlap and interpenetrate, but three broad areas can easily be identified.

The first of these is lessening the wastage of plant lives—that is, treating plant lives as nothing. Wasting plant products, particularly paper and food, drives unnecessary harm to plants. In the United Kingdom, recent studies have suggested that Britain wastes up to one third of all food fit for human consumption." A large proportion of this is plant based. Paper from timber is also wasted to the same degree, with 1.3 million tons of waste paper per year collected from households in England alone. While the figures relate to Britain, similar wastage of plant lives occurs across Western society, and this typifies our instrumental relationship with plants.

Although not as simple to quantify as wastage, the sheer (predominantly Western) overconsumption of plant products, both individually and globally, is another identifiable threat to plant well-being. As has already been stated, on a global scale, over the last three hundred years, twelve million km2 of forests and woodlands have been felled, and five million km2 of grasslands have been converted to agriculture. This loss of natural plant habitat is driven by human overconsumption of agricultural plants for food, wood, fuel, and medicines. Much of this stems from Westernized nations with instrumental human-plant relationships. The conversion of autonomous plant habitats into agricultural areas intended to satisfy human purposes threatens the integrity of plant species, ecosystems, and the biosphere as a whole. In Europe alone, over 60 percent of the available land has been converted to farmland for human beings. This is set to bring about a sharp decline in plant diversity.

Western overconsumption is significant for it is one of the drivers of habitat and species loss. Globally, it is estimated that natural habitat loss threatens between 20 to 30 percent of plant species with extinction. In some groups such as the cycads, (the oldest seed-bearing plants on the planet) over 50 percent of the species are threatened with extinction. According to recent studies, approximately fifteen thousand species of medicinal plants are threatened in the wild, as a result of overharvesting, land conversion, and habitat loss. Not only is this loss an enacted violence upon the species in question, but these extinctions have serious consequences for ecosystem functioning. The interactions between plants are vital for maintaining the composition and integrity of ecosystems. The loss of plant species can undermine ecosystem stability. It can also undermine both resource availability and habitat structure, which in turn weakens the ability of ecosystems to respond to environmental changes, such as climatic change.

As the case of medicinal plants exemplifies, when humans use plants, there may be direct conflict between human wants and plant needs. This conflict is felt on all levels—from the individual through the species, up to habitats and ecosystems. At the same time, it must be remembered that not all harm to individuals is ecologically harmful. The bear that eats bilberries may kill some of the individual plants, but at the same time, it spreads the seeds. Consumption can lead to (re)production. However, overconsumption is symptomatic of human-plant relationships that revolve around instrumentalism. The drivers of overconsumption are complex and intricately linked, but include human overpopulation, unequal distribution of wealth, greed, urbanization, and industrialization. Although there are many contributing factors, overconsumption is influenced by the fact that in instrumental relationships with plants, there is no inherent moral limit to human use behavior.

A third very significant driver of harm to individual plants, plant species, and plant habitats is the unnecessary, unthinking use of plants. Perhaps the most prominent of these is the use of plants to feed massive numbers of animals for the world's wealthiest nations to consume. Recent estimates suggest that humankind farms and eats over thirty billion animals each year. In a plant context, this livestock rearing is important because it accounts for more than 65 percent of the total global agricultural area. It also accounts for large volumes of grains and soya beans which are used as feed. In 2002, approximately 670 million tons of grains were fed to livestock, roughly a third of the global harvest. They were also fed 350 million tons of protein-rich products such as soya and bran.

The areas cleared to rear animals and feed them on such a huge scale are natural plant habitats such as tropical forests, savannahs, and grasslands. The rearing of livestock on such large scales is one of the major drivers of habitat loss. Basing diets on meat consumption excessively inflates the area of land that is put under human cultivation. Reducing the amount of consumed meat is a direct way of reducing harm done to plants, animals, and human beings. Not least because this large industry is also responsible for generating 18 percent of global carbon emissions—which to provide an idea of scale, is more than all forms of transport combined.

In the desire to reduce carbon emissions from oil-based transport, the world's wealthiest nations are also beginning to use plants to feed their cars. The rise in the use of biofuels has the potential to be another significant contributor to the unthinking overconsumption of both individual plants and plant habitats. Current global production of biofuels is estimated at 2.8 million tons per year, but if biofuels were to replace just 20 percent of our petrochemical demands by 2050, 276.7 million tons per year would need to be produced. This hundredfold rise in the production of the four major biofuel crops also has the potential to lead to the loss of natural plant habitats. A recent study by Pin Koh suggests that using "soybean based biodiesel production to meet future global biodiesel demand would likely result in the highest amount of habitat loss (76.4-114.2 million ha) compared with alternative scenarios of sunflower seed (56.0-61.1 million ha), rapeseed (25.9-34.9 million ha), and oil palm based (0.4-5.4 million ha) biodiesel production." The use of tropical crops such as soybean and oil palm poses a particularly high risk to plant biodiversity as they are typically grown in geographic regions that contain some of the world's biodiversity hotspots.

The irony is that while biofuels are touted as a means of reducing carbon emissions in the fight against global climate change, the most recent studies have demonstrated that the loss of natural habitat required for biofuel production actually increases greenhouse gas emissions. When carbon emissions from land-use change are factored in, in the United States the use of corn-based biodiesel nearly doubles the emission of greenhouse gases over thirty years!' The use of food to drive cars also pushes up grain prices, putting poorer nations at risk of malnutrition and increases the pressures on natural plant habitats in developing countries.

Again, the link is evident between lessening the harm done to individual plants, plant species. and plant ecosystems and reducing the harm done ultimately to human beings. We need to fundamentally examine our uses of plants and decide which are necessary and which are not. After fulfilling our basic needs, the needs of plants also need to be recognized. An awareness that there are other subjects and purposes in the biosphere demands limits to human activity.. It demands that humans only violate these needs and purposes where necessary, either for the satisfaction of human needs or for the maintenance of biodiversity. Ultimately it should demand the cessation of the wasteful and unthinking use of plant individuals, species, and communities.

Reducing harm is the first step. Because of the extent of the biodiversity crisis and the incipient march of plant habitat loss, we must also find ways to make the space necessary for plants to thrive and reproduce their kind. In fact, this should be recognized as one of the priorities for humankind in the twenty-first century. Practically, leaving space for plants entails expanding protected area networks on a local, regional, and national level. Protecting greater areas of plant habitat from conversion to human use will help to ensure the continuation of wild living plant species and communities.

Conserving plants for their own sake, as well as for the needs of others, would help bolster conservation efforts for marginal, uneconomic plant species. Increasing the area of plant habitat that is unavailable for transformation to human ends will be a practical step toward maintaining biodiversity and mitigating climatic change. Such preservation is also essential "in order for there to be a nature with which to have a relationship."75 Here there is a distinct connection between the preservation of more natural plant habitats, and the mitigation of violence to plants, predominantly agricultural plants. Reducing the killing of crop plants lessens the area of agricultural land that human beings need to farm. This would reduce real pressures on plant habitats around the world.


If we wish to engage in dialogue with nature, our efforts need to be active as well as passive; they need to be restorative as well as conservative. Moral relationships with plants need not be restricted entirely to the negation of human claims and the mitigation of harm. As Hettinger says, "leaving much of nature on the planet alone is an absolutely central part of any adequate environmental ethic," but following John Visvader, we also need to "imagine giving more to the world around us than the gift of our mere absence." As contemporary animists demonstrate, caring for the well-being of plants requires social interaction, human presence, and activity.

The restoration of plant habitats offers a way to divert human industry into working for the well-being of plants. Globally there are thousands of restoration projects on a variety of different scales—from the restoration of a local woodland, or a pagan grove, to the billion dollar project to restore the Florida Everglades. The majority of restoration projects involve recreating plant habitats on damaged lands, such as brownfield sites or on previously cultivated or grazed areas. On such sites, restoration is often the only appropriate human response to ecological damage. The success of projects such as Trees for Life's restoration of Scotland's Caledonian forest suggests that restoration is becoming an increasingly popular way of engaging with nature. In many ways, restoration is a way of enacting our knowledge of plant personhood and human-plant kinship. It releases us from the theoretical ethical domain and can point us in the direction of ritual—of embodied, performed activity which Grimes argues is necessary for humans to develop the humility and gratitude that will give us all a chance of surviving to the third millennium.

However, the process of restoration is not without its criticisms. One of the most prominent critics of restoration is Eric Katz, whose objections to the restoration of natural habitats are founded on the claim that restored environments are not natural. In this argument, anything achieved through the work of humanity cannot be natural. Therefore, Katz asserts that all restoration projects "involve the manipulation and domination of natural areas. All of these projects involve the creation of artifactual realities, the imposition of anthropocentric interests on the processes and objects of value." However, as Andrew Light contests, the notion that the fruits of human work cannot be natural itself rests on a radical ontological dualism between human beings and nature. This dualism is at the heart of our environmental predicament, and rather than being a weakness of restorative action, it is one of the strengths of restoration that it works to overcome this ecological schism. For William Jordan III, a fierce proponent of restorative action, restoration is not the imposition of human interests on nature, but is "a way of repaying our debt to nature."82 Restoration of habitats is a way of giving something back to the natural world. It is primarily an active, performed apology for centuries of domination because its aims are fundamentally "to let alone" the beings who are being restored to their habitats. With this motivation, restoration actively gives space for the lives of plant species.

The aim of restoration is different from traditional gardening, forestry, or agriculture. The aim is not to bring plants under human control and deny their subjectivity, but rather to reclaim habitat in which other species can live. While even the most benign agricultural activity involves "simplifying an ecosystem in order to exploit it more effectively for some human end, restoration does the opposite, recomplicating the system in order to set it free, to turn it back into or over to itself." Jordan has argued that this restorative process is primarily done "with a studied indifference to human interests." In his ethos of restoration, this is not a divorce of humans from the natural world, but the avoidance of imposing short-sighted, short-term human "interests" of domination and control on plant habitats.

Human beings do of course have a very real interest in diverse and healthy ecological communities. The continued restoration of the Wagait floodplains in northern Australia is allowing the native Mak Mak people to continue to gather, hunt, eat, and live in their homeland. In this instance, as in many projects, the restoration of plant communities involves the harm of individual plants. For the Mak Mak, the restoration of their wetlands involves the removal of huge numbers of the invasive Mimosa pigra L. As Harvey's animist manifesto makes clear, in some instances respect does not rule out the possibility of death for some and life for others.

One of the most positive aspects of restoring plant habitats is its capacity to arrest domination, both mentally and physically. Restoration is an active and practical method for putting plant, mammal, bird, insect, and fungal interests on a par with (and in many projects often before) those of human beings. The active nature of restoration is significant because it allows dialogue with nature, and human plant-ethics to be more than theoretical. It allows human beings to directly replace instrumental relationships with social relationships of care and solidarity by pursuing ecologically beneficial work. It allows the grounding of theoretical ecological relationships in ecological reality and is a way of practically restoring the overall human relationship with nature.

The fact that humans may work to greatly influence the composition, situation, and scope of plant habitats during restoration is not a weakness (as identified by Katz), but is actually a great strength. The influence that we exert in restoring plant habitats "forces us to become aware of ourselves as ecologically effective inhabitants of a world inhabited by others," a process which restorationists often find deeply pleasurable, and which restores humans to a more appropriate understanding of themselves as relational beings. Participating closely in the difficult task of recreating (as closely as possible) wild and free-living ecosystems makes human participants aware of the fragility and intricacy of plant ecosystems that repeatedly come under negative human influence.

Working for the benefit of other-than-human persons allows the reclamation of positive human ecological influence on the natural world. As restored habitats often necessitate continued human attention, restoration creates real relationships of care between humans and plants. These dialogue-based relation ships recognize the plurality of voices in the natural world, and are a work in progress toward dissolving the human-nature dualism that is at the heart of our ecological predicament." Thus, the necessity of human engagement with other subjective beings during restoration is one of its key strengths. As Deborah Rose powerfully states, "subject-subject encounter is an ecological process that undermines the whole basis of hegemonic anthropocentrism."

Although it may involve harm to some individuals, direct action to reestablish plant habitats does not vitiate the autonomy of our plant kin. This is because in effect, dialogically oriented restorative action is a collaboration between human beings and plants. This collaboration is based upon humans putting plant needs at the heart of our action. Rather than exerting domination, "restoration can allow nature to engage in its own autonomous restitution." Thus, working closely in collaboration with plants on a restoration project can allow many Westerners the opportunity to directly encounter the autonomous qualities that plants possess.

Although human beings may influence the situation of sessile plants during restoration, restorative activity does not negate the fact that plants are continuously behaving autonomously and intelligently. Regardless of how they come to be fixed in the ground, once rooted, plants begin to grow, perceive, communicate, and plastically alter their forms—making reasoned decisions as they do so. In both a primary forest habitat, and a restored forest, the vegetation will be abuzz with communication and mental activity.

The seed of an understanding that plants are active, self-directed, even intelligent beings can be sown by science, but it must be realized through working closely with plants in collaborative projects of mutual benefit. Working closely with individual plant persons also has the potential to shift the view of nature as an organic, homogenized whole—which by blanking individual personalities contributes to the backgrounding of nature. The earned, practical recognition of plants as persons releases us from the dichotomy of regarding nature either as a combination of processes or things." Instead, it puts forward the view that nature is a communion of subjective, collaborative beings that organize and experience their own lives.



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