If Plants Had Culture

Nature and Architecture
Creative Commons License photo credit: lrargerich

An incomplete idea

Begin with the idea of seeds as dense packets of shippable information. Seeds contain (self)assembly instructions. Just add water.

Think about memes vs. genes. Memes allow an evolution that is faster than the rate of gene evolution. There is the rapid transmission, sure. But there is also the internal workings, self-reflection and modification of memes. A meme can undergo a great deal of evolution within a single entity before it gets spit back out into the world. 

What would it look like if plants had access to memes? What if plants had rapid learning? They’d still need to be plants, so no moving and talking like people. Otherwise, we’ve just recreated Treebeard.

Think about machines. In some crude sense, RepRaps are plants. They build other RepRaps but they themselves don’t change or learn. The learning is instantiated in the next generation of machine that the RepRap builds. Generations can be radically (instead of gradually) different — an advantage afforded by all of the information processing that happens between generations of RepRaps.

Give plants memes and let them instantiate their learning in the (plant)conscious design of the next generation of seeds. Give them access to the ability to modify their behaviour almost as quickly as humans modify ours. Let them adapt rapidly to our rapid cultural shifts. Why should Monsanto have all the fun?


A weed appears in the Middle East with seed pods that are as satisfying to smash as a florescent tube. When smashed near the right kind of soil, chemical triggers set off a fiery light show. Youthful Tehran is overrun with the stuff.

In Paris, a species of flower predicts next season’s colours and changes its children accordingly. A bizarre symbiosis occurs as fashion designers derive inspiration from plant and plant derives inspiration from the runway. All the big houses guard their greenhouses jealously. Chanel’s radical “Agent Orange” spring line causes a scandal.

On the rootops of Detroit, a species we call shiftspice changes flavours from generation to generation. Chefs prize them, trading and collecting them the way that we trade vintages of wine. “Is that a Brightmoor late 2012?” Collector-prospector-burglars creep along the eaves with highly portable harvesting gear. Their discoveries are sold to restaurants all around the world.

In Tokyo, a kind of balcony fruit that seemed incredibly successful is learning about fads and backlash. While in Abbotswood, truce is declared as gardeners learn that updating your landscaping to the latest fashion can be something of an impossibility if the current plants don’t want to be removed.

Rumours circulate of a grass in L.A. with hallucinogenic properties and pollen spores that are activated by fire. If you hotbox with male and female angiosperm in the same bowl, the trip is said to be twice as intense.

Authorities in São Paulo engage in a futile attempt to crack down on the practice of “body pollenating” at festivals, after revellers discover a flowering vine that, in the right conditions and quantities, produces an indescribable contact-high.

From a plant's-eye view