by Liam Heneghan
To James White, botanist and teacher.
Though you might forgivably mistake a man for a tree at the level of gross morphology, nevertheless, a tree undeniably dwells in place whereas a person’s home is born in motion. Agnes Arber, the Cambridge plant anatomist and philosopher, remarked in her 1950 classic The Natural Philosophy of Plant Form that “among plants, form may be held to include something corresponding to behaviour in the zoological field.” If by behavior we refer to the sum of all the activities of an organism, then the manner in which a plant grows – marshalling its leaves to best secure light, disposing its roots to obtain nutrients and to harness it to the earth – is comparable to the more rambunctious activities that animals deploy for analogous purpose. The behavior of plants – the punctuated rhythms of their growth – is founded on the quite simple laws of cell division and extension. This was Arber’s lesson. And this, at eighteen, was the first conceptual framework that preoccupied me. If simplicity rules the world of plants, why not also true for animals, for people, for me?
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