The Secret Life Force of Pot Plants

I’ve just read Donna Haraway’s book ‘Staying With The Trouble: Making Kin In The Chthulucene‘ which has some useful ways of articulating a future in which we strive to divest ourselves of what she calls our human ‘exceptionalism’ and truly implicate ourselves in the planet’s processes – which she refers to as a kind of ‘composting’.*

Back in the 90s, when I was living through that hermit-phase, (yes, the one I am always going on about), I had practically nothing in my flat. At the start of that seven-year sojourn I purged myself of almost everything I owned and deposited it in a skip during one long and unusually focused night.

I retained a few clothes, a large wooden bowl that I used for fruit and for making rice salads, and a lovely houseplant that someone had given me because they were fed up with the way it sometimes rained its little spines down on their carpeted floor.

It was a beautiful and unusual plant and looked great in the emptied and whitened spaces in which I was now living. I researched a little and found the closest thing I could find to it was called an ‘Asparagus Fern’. Mine didn’t seem to precisely fit that description, and so I decided it was a unique or rare variant.

It was true that, once or twice a year its tall clouds of bristling little green spines turned brown and rain down but given the white-painted floorboards I had then, in my flat-come-studio, it was a pleasure to simply sweep them away (incidentally, I have always loved sweeping and have sometimes wished I could sweep for a living).

A great compensation for my fern’s occasional autumnal behaviour is its irregular, vigorous, almost unseemly outbursts of new Spring-like life. Once or twice a year (the plant seems to have its very own seasons) a new shoot appears from the earth in the pot (a pot that I have upgraded only once and is now too large and heavy to manipulate). Within a day – i.e. so fast that you can almost watch it grow – the new shoot rises up and reaches out into a bold new tendril. This then begins to burst with bright, pale-green, brand new spines that shine-out against the background of the more established, dark green spines.

Today, given the limited space inside the pot, and the age of the plant (I inherited it 27 years ago and it must have already been many years old then) I find myself wondering, just what is this virulent life force that bursts forth from its hiding place within the dark brown earth? Farmers and scientific agriculturists surely have a technical answer to this question, but still, to me, it retains cosmic, spiritual, even mystic qualities.

The question makes me think of the concept ‘Elan Vital‘ that I came across in the writings of Henri Bergson, or perhaps the ‘Will To Power‘ in Nietzsche’s philosophical schema, (which was partly inspired, I believe, by Schopenhauer’s similar interest in forces of nature). The romantic novelist D.H Lawrence also comes to mind as someone passionate about the life force in nature and how the human experience is not exceptional to it but caught up in it and a manifestation of it.

Without wanting to write too much here today I just wanted to share this essential mystery, concerning the ‘life force’ that sends  forth new shoots so vigorously from my pot plant, but which  also seem to implicate my, and our, very own life and our very own life force, i.e. manifesting and illustrating some energy that perhaps pervades the entire universe, or -as some say – is particular and local to this tiny, tumultuous planet.

* P.S. I don’t know if my own, perhaps neo-Romanticist thoughts here are really relevant to Donna Haraway’s writing, but, as I have created a co-incidence here, I will provide this link to Haraway giving a lecture on the theme of her book:






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