PL . I A garden of parallel plants
Translated by PATRICK CREAGH
Copyright © 1977 by Leo Lionni
All rights reserved under International
and Pan-American Copyright Conventions.
Published in the United States
by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York,
and simultaneously in Canada
by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.
Distributed by Random House, Inc., New York.
Grateful acknowledgment is made
to Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc.,
for permission to reprint one line from
" Poetry" from Collected Poems of Marianne Moore.
Copyright 1935 by Marianne Moore,
renewed 1963 by Marianne Moore and T. S. Eliot.
Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data
Lionni, Leo [date]
Translation of La botanica parallela.
i. Botany -Anecdotes, facetiae, satin, etc. I. Title.
PQ5984.L55B6I3 sSi'.oao? 77-74985
isbn 0-394-41055-6 0-394-73302^-9 (pbk.)
Photographs are by Enzo Ragazzini
Manufactured in the United States of America
First American Edition
Imaginary gardens with real toads in them.
General Introduction 3
PART TWO: THE PLANTS
The Tirillus 59
Tirillus oniricus 62
Tirillus mimeticus 64
Tirillus parasiticus 67
Tirillus odoratus 68
Tirillus silvador 70
The Woodland Tweezers 73
The Tubolara 78
The Camporana 80
The Protorbis 86
The Labirintiana 95
The Artisia 100
The Germinants 112
The Stranglers 117
The Giraluna 119
Giraluna gigas 134
Giraluna minor 1 43
The Solea 145
The Sigurya 162
PART THREE: EPILOGUE
The Gift of Thaumas 173
i A garden of parallel plants
ii Leaves of Antola enigmatica
iii Woodland tweezers at the base of a ben tree
iv Algal Lepelara
v Lepelara terrestris
vi Fossil Lepelara from Tiefenau
vii Fossils of the bulbous tiril
viii Kumode plants
ix Anaclea taludensis
xi Propitiatory leaf-boat of the Okono Indians
xii Parasitic tirils
xiii Woodland tweezers
xvi Camporana menorea
xviii The Katachek Protorbis
xix Leaf of Labirintiana labirintiana
xxi Kaori tattoos
xxii The Cadriano germinanis
xxiii Strangler tirils
xxiv Giraluna (closeup of avvulta at right)
xxv The ebluk procession (Sumerian bas-relief)
xxvi Wo'swa, the bride of Pwa'ko
xxvii Giraluna minor in typical habitat
xxviii Casts of Solea
xxix Tips of Solea
xxx The great Stone of Ta
xxxi Sigurya barbulata
xxxii Sigurya natans
In ancient times botany was part of a single science that
included everything from medicine to the various skills of agriculture, and
it was practiced by philosophers and barbers alike. At the famous medical school
of Cos (fifth century b.c.) Hippocrates, and later Aristotle, laid the foundations
of the scientific method. But it was Theocrastus, a pupil of Aristotle, who
first worked out a rudimentary system for observing the vegetable world. The
influence of his Historia Plaitarum and De Plantarum Causis was passed on to
later ages by Dioscorides, and is to be found lurking everywhere in the medieval
herbaria composed by the scrivener monks in their cloistered gardens, with
their humble little plants, each on its minute altar of earti, as still and
perfect as waiting saints, wrapped in a solitude that defies time and the passing
After Gutenberg, plants also came to have a new iconography. Instead of the delicate washes applied with loving patience, and expressing the very essence of the petals and leaves, we now have the coarseness of woodcuts and the flat banality of printer's inks.
In 1560 Hieronymus Bock published a volume, illustrated with woodcuts, in which he described 567 of the 6,000 species of plant then known in the Western world, including, for the first time, tubers and mushrooms. "These," he wrote, "are not grasses, or roots, or flowers, or seeds, but simply the excess of humidity that is in the soil, in trees, in rotten wood and other putrescent things. It is from this dampness that all tubers and mushrooms spring. This we can tell from the fact that all mushrooms (and especially those used in our kitchens) most commonly grow when the weather is wet or stormy. The Ancients were in their time particularly struck by this and thought that tubers, not being born from seed, must in some way be connected with the sky. Porphyry himself expresses as much when he writes, 'Mushrooms and tubers are called the creatures of the Gods because they do not grow from seed like other living things.'"
Less than a century after the invention of printing, the conquistadores and the captains of the East India companies showered an astounded Europe with a perfumed cornucopia from the gardens and jungles which had until then slept beyond the oceans. Hastily, thousands of new plants had to be named and placed within a rudimentary and inefficient system of classification.
It was not until the first half of the eighteenth century that the Swedish botanist Linnaeus created a system of botanical classification that seemed to be definitive, a botanical register where all the plants of the earth, present and future, could be given a name, a degree, and a brief description. Linnaeus published his Systema Naturae and in 1753 introduced the double nomenclature giving each plant two Latin names, one for the genus and the other for the species. By now no fewer than 300,000 plant names compose one enormous random poem that records, commemorates, describes, exalts, and celebrates all that man has discovered of the world of plants.
All seemed ready for the emergence of the new science. Freed from their obsession with classification, botanists began to ask themselves how and why plants behave as they do. Chemistry, physics, and genetics provided new instruments of research, while classification gave way to etiology, the study of origins. Botany, called upon to establish a logical and causal relationship between the morphological structure and the vital functions of plants by experimental methods, became a modern science.
The future seemed securely mapped out: from the small to the smaller still, and so ad infinitum. It was thought that at that point, paradoxically enough, would occur the sudden fusion of knowledge that would explain everything in the universe.
But the triumphant and comforting prospect of a research program gradually but inevitably unraveling itself over the centuries was destined to be severely jolted by the news of the discovery of the first parallel plants, of an unknown vegetal kingdom which, being by nature arbitrary and unforesesable, appeared-and still appears to challenge not only the most recently acquired biological knowledge but also the traditional structures of logic.
" These organisms," writes Franco Russoli, "whose physical being is sometimes flabby and sometimes porous, at other times osseous but fragile, breaking open to display huge colonies of seeds or bulbs which grow and ferment in the blind hope of some vital metamorphosis, that seem to struggle against a soft but impenetrable skin- these abnormal creatures with pointed or horny protuberances, or petticoats, skirts and fringes of fibrils and pistils, articulations that are sometimes mucous and sometimes cartilaginous, might well belong to one of the great families of jungle flora, ambiguous, savage, and fascinating in their monstrous way. But they do not belong to any species in nature, nor would the most expert grafting ever succeed in bringing them into existence."1
Fig. I. A vegetable-lamb or Barometz, from a sixteenth-century woodcut .
When we think
that in 1330 Friar Odorico of Pordenone, with truly angelic devotion, described
a plant which gave birth to no less
than a lamb (Fig. I), and that as late as the seventeenth century, on the
threshold of the first real scientific experiments, Claude Duret also spoke
of trees which produced animals,2 we cannot wonder if the discovery of a
botany unconstrained by any known laws of nature has given rise to descriptions
that do not always treat the real character of the new plants with objective
accuracy. As Romeo Tassinelli puts it: "What are we to say of plants
that sink their roots, not into the familiar soil of our planet, but into
an infinitely distant oneiric humus, feeding on ethereal juices not susceptible
to measurement? The plants of this kingdom appear to be extraneous to the
well-ordered play of natural selection and the survival of the species. They
do not lend themselves to the surest and best-tried methods of experiment,
and resist the most elementary kinds of direct observation. Their etiology,
their very existentiality, can be assigned no place among the things of our
planet. In short," he concludes, "we ought not to speak of a vegetable
kingdom, but of a vegetable anarchy."3
It was clear that to find a place within the Linnaean classification for plants that were possible, or at best probable, but in any case totally foreign to our known reality, would present insurmountable difficulties. It was Franco Russoli who coined the phrase "parallel botany," at the same time giving a name and a definition to what might be a science in itself, or might simply represent, in toto, the organisms which are the object of inquiry. But it sometimes happens that words possess a wisdom greater than their semantic density. By means of its implications of unalterable "otherness," the word "parallel" freed the scientists from the nightmare of seeing the traditional classifications virtually destroyed, and along with them the very basis of modern scientific methodology. Insofar as Wolotov is right in observing that if one of two sciences is parallel then by definition the other must be also, we are of the opinion that the somewhat cloudy ambiguity of the word must be taken to refer to a realm outside the established boundaries of our knowledge. "Once aware of its parallelism," says Remo Gavazzi, "we are forced to change the focus of our observation, to create new paths for inquiry and maybe also new instruments of perception, if we are to understand a reality that might formerly have appeared hostile to us."4
Every discovery, however small, implies a redefinition of everything that we have so far comfortably accepted as the only possible yardstick of reality. Thus, the discovery of this unusual and disquieting botany was bound to upset the illusory consistency of our previous notions of reality and unreality. "So much so," writes Dulieu, "that it is from these very notions that its plants, mysteriously alienated from the events of growth and decay which struggle for the dominion of the biosphere, appear to draw their vital juices, and thereby emerge, perennially immune, outside the sphere of normal perceptions and the links and associations of the memory, in a fashion quite 'other,' ambiguous, perverse, and beyond our ken. We are unable to grasp it because of the long-consecrated notion of reality which clings so obstinately, like a twining and perhaps poisonous ivy, to our logic."
Jacques Dulieu, director of the Biological Studies Center at Provences and editor of the journal Pensee, owes his international reputation not only to his celebrated experiments into the vibratory and echoic language of the organisms living on the seabed, but also to his detailed and original critical analysis of Descartes. It may have been the fact that he was both a biologist and a philosopher that first led him to take an intense and serious interest in the new botany.
Criticizing the ideas that since the Enlightenment had been held to be the sure foundations of all our work in the sciences, in a historic interview for Radiodiffusion Francaise Dulieu recounted the strange events which led up to his intellectual crisis, to his controversial reevaluation of all ancient meanings, and to the formulation of new methods of research for the study of phenomena which "official" science refused to recognize as really existent.
His dramatic testimony was meant as a reply to those in French intellectual circles who could not understand how a biologist of his stature might, with such outspoken determination, have taken the risk of exploring new and seemingly esoteric trajectories, so full of snares and inevitable pitfalls, when his reputation as a scholar of exceptional flair and prudence seemed already to have assured him a place among the luminaries of science.
In his radio interview Dulieu told how, shortly after the end of the war, he was working in the botanical biology laboratory at the University of Hannanpur in Bengal. There he met Hamished Baribhai, famous for his studies not only in medical botany but also in Sanskrit literature, and particularly the Vedic texts. When they met, Baribhai had just turned ninety-one years of age, but in mental and physical agility he could still with ease match the young French scholar, who at that time was one of the up-and-coming talents at the Sorbonne. The two of them used to meet often in an "ashram" on a hill, near the great temple dedicated to the monkey-god Hanuman.5
"One late afternoon, in the first glow of a long sunset,
when the city was veiled in a reddish smog and the acrid stench of burnt dung
rose even to the hilltop,
Hamished Baribhai said to me, 'You are always talking about the real and the
unreal. If you promise to keep it to yourself I will show you a new experiment.
Come with me.' We walked for half an hour toward tie River Amshipat until we
came to the edge of a wood of gensum trees. There we came upon a freshly whitewashed
mud hut. The door was padlocked. Baribhai took a bunch of keys out of his pocket
and opened the door. There is your reality,' he said with an ironic smile.
I was rather dismayed by what I saw. In the semidarkness inside the hut were
two large white gibbons. One was stretched out on a pile of straw, and appeared
to be dead. Even when we entered it did not move. Meanwhile the other, without
stirring from its place, began to rock nervously on its paws, showing its teeth
and emitting little shrill cries. 'Is that one dead?' I asked, pointing to
the other monkey, which had still not shown the least sign of life. 'If that
one is dead, so is the other,' was Baribhais answer. Then he added, spelling
the words out slowly, 'You are looking at a single monkey.' Being perfectly
accustomed to the old man's witticisms I did not react to this absurd statement.
'What do you think they're doing, those two?' I asked, intending to tease him.
But Baribhai had already left the hut. I followed, wondering what on earth
he was up to. Though the monkeys were secured on long chains, I shut the door
carefully behind me.
"Next to the hut there was a long, narrow vegetable garden, no larger than a bowling alley,* completely surrounded by six-foot wire netting topped with barbed wire. It made me think, involuntarily, of a concentration camp for dwarfs. Inside the garden there were three rows of plants, all fifty centimeters high and all exactly the same. At first sight they looked like tomato plants, but the leaves were very regular and rather swollen-looking, like those of certain succulents. Baribhai took out his keys again and opened the gate. He went in, picked three leaves from one of the plants with meticulous care, then came out, closed the gate, snapped the padlock shut, and showed me the leaves. Do you want to see reality? Come with me and watch carefully.' We went back into the hut. The monkey which had been lying down had not moved at all, but at the sight of the leaves the other became extremely excited. I was a little scared, without really knowing why, and kept close to the door. Baribhai held out the leaves to the monkey, who tore them from his grasp with a lightning movement, then sat down and leaned against the wall like a Mexican peon, munching the leaves with obvious relish. But as it ate, its frantic gestures slowed down, the eyes which had followed our every movement with such lively interest began to close, and when it had finished the third leaf it slid down onto the ground and lay there on its bed, as if it had fainted. But at the instant it fell, completely inert, the other monkey appeared to shudder. It opened its eyes, emitted c, long groan, rose to its feet, and looked around aggressively and with suspicion. At first I failed to grasp what was going on, but then I suddenly remembered what Baribhai had said ('You are looking at a single monkey'). There is your reality,' said the old scientist for the third time. 'Let's go.'"
The radio interviewer was unable to disguise his incredulity, and Dulieu went on: "I could scarcely keep my legs under me. We left the hut. Baribhai closed the door and locked it. I confess I had to sit down on one of the two crates which I found by the wall of the hut. Baribhai sat on the other, and for a while the only sound was the occasional rattle of a chain. 'What does it mean?' I asked him at last, almost in a whisper. 'Let's be off,' said Baribhai, as if he hadn't heard the question. 'Let's go before it gets dark.' We walked toward the ashram. The sky was now a fiery red, and here and there on the plain below us the first lamps were already lit. Then Baribhai began to speak.
"'My young friend,' he said, 'you ask me what it means. Well, if I could tell you I would be Krishna, Shiva, and Vishnu all rolled into one. Ten years ago I was at Domshapur, in Orissa State, and a colleague of mine there told me about the strange properties of a certain plant, Antola enigmatica,6 ( PL.II ) which grows on the slopes of Mount Tanduba. The shepherds who graze their flocks of black goats in the region pick the leaves of this plant and chew them. One day I asked one of them why he chewed the leaves, and he replied, "Because when I close my eyes I seem to have become a mirror, and in the mirror I see myself, backyards." So then I tried the leaves, and after a few minutes I saw myself sitting in front of me, like an old friend who had come to visit me. From subsequent experiments I found that the leaves of the Antola contain a substance comparable to mescaline, called metexodine H. B. I grew the plants in the garden of my laboratory, experimenting with grafts from other hallucinogenic plants such as Kolipta onirica, and after many attempts I succeeded in increasing and varying the psychedelic properties of the leaves. The plants which you saw in the garden by the hut represent ten seasons of experimental grafting, ten years of research, and I have now managed to produce a form of hallucination which I call "paragemination." It manifests itself as the feeling, and indeed the certainty, that one's body has divided into two identical bodies, while the consciousness remains whole, and comparatively unchanged. A few months ago I tried it myself, and was so terrified that I decided in future to experiment only on monkeys. The subject becomes two bodies with a single consciousness that moves, according to particular circumstances, from one to the other. When one body is "inhabited" by the consciousness, the other remains inert and apparently lifeless. But the extraordinary and disturbing thing about it is not the hallucination, weird as it is, but the fact that it is perceptible by others. Hypothetical explanations are infinite, and faced with a phenomenon so novel and bizarre they all seem valid enough. Maybe the leaves eaten by the monkey emit secondary hallucinogenic effects within the surrounding area, so that we too are involved. In that case the inert form might be an illusion on our part. Maybe we are, in certain conditions, the victims of the monkey's hallucination, rather as according to the Bahama all living beings are characters in a dream of Lord Krishna's. And who knows, maybe the phenomenon ought to be viewed within our habitual reality, as some new and totally unexpected combination of experiences. Ultimately,' the old man added almost to himself, 'paragemination in itself is a rather banal phenomenon. The important thing is to experiment in order to discover the existence of new and tangible categories of reality.'"
PL. II Leaves of Antola enigmatica
Dulieu's testimony may appear irrelevant, disproportionate,
and perhaps outside the scope of these essays. I have quoted it at length because
I think that it indicates, though obliquely, something of the possibilities
of our escaping from tie age-old contradictions of logic; and above all because
the great French biologist, always courageously open to new experiences, has
since devoted himself almost exclusively to the study of parallel botany, contributing
in a decisive way to defining the theoretical basis of the new science. In
his book Un autre jardin7 Dulieu first asks himself the
question: What is it that distinguishes the parallel plants from the supposedly
plants of normal
For him there are clearly two levels, or perhaps even two types, of what is real, one on this side and one on the other side of the hedge. "On this side," he writes, "in our everyday garden, grow the rosemary, juniper, ferns and plane trees, perfectly tangible and visible. For these plants that have an illusory relationship with us, which in no way alters their exisistentiality, we are merely an event, an accident, and our presence, which to us seems so solid, laden with gravity, is to them no more than a momentary void in motion through the air. Reality is a quality that belongs to them, and we can exercise no rights over it.
"On the other side of the hedge however, reality is ours. It is the absolute condition of all existence. The plants that grow there are real because we want them to be. If we find them intact in our memories, the same as when we saw them before, it is because we have invested them with the image that we have of them, with the opaque skin of our own confirmation. The plants that grow in that garden are not more or less real than those others which bend and sway in the wind of reason. Their reality, given them by us, is quite simply another and different reality."
That the parallel plants exist in the context of a reality
that is certainly not that of "every day" is evident at first sight. Though from a
distance their striking "plantness" may deceive us into imagining
that we are concerned with one of the many freaks of our flora, we soon realize
that the plants before our eyes must in fact belong to another realm entirely.
Motionless, imperishable, isolated in an imaginary void, they seem to throw
out a challenge to the ecological vortex that surrounds them. What chiefly
strikes us about them is the absence of any tangible, familiar substance. This "matterlessness" of
the parallel plants is a phenomenon peculiar to them, and is perhaps the thing
which mainly distinguishes them from the ordinary plants around them.
The term "matterlessness," coined by Koolemans and widely used by both Dulieu and Fiirhaus, may not be a very happy one, suggesting as it does the idea of invisibility, which except for certain abnormal situations is not generally true of parallel botany. "Para-materiality" would perhaps be a more correct word to describe the corporeality of plants that are usually characterized by a fairly solid presence, sometimes almost brutally intrusive, which makes them objectively perceptible to the sane degree as all the other things in nature, even if their substance eludes chemical analysis and flouts all known laws of physics.
But "matterlessness" does suggest that apparent absence of verifiable structure on a cellular and molecular level common to all the parallel plants. Each individual species has some special anomaly of its own, of course, and these are more difficult to define and often far more disconcerting, though they are always attributable to some abnormal substance that rejects the most basic gravitational restrictions. There are some plants, for instance, that appear clearly in photographs but are imperceptible to the naked eye. Some violate the normal rules of perspective, looking the same size however close or far they may be from us. Others are colorless, but under certain conditions reveal a profusion of colors of exceptional beauty. One of them has leaves with such a tangled maze of veins that it caused the extinction of a voracious insect that at one time had threatened the vegetation of an entire continent
The parallel plants fall into two groups, but the distinction does not signify different evolutionary levels, as is the case with normal plants, which are divided into higher and lower orders. On the contrary, the two categories assigned to parallel plants are derived from the two ways in which the plants are perceived by us. Those of the first group are directly discernible by the senses and indirectly by instruments, while those of the second, far more mysterious and elusive, come to our knowledge only indirectly, through images, words, or other symbolic signs. The first group is certainly the larger, and contains the more widespread species. As Dulieu observes, its plants are "the more parallel." Motionless in time ever since the strange mutation which triggered their metamorphosis, they have shared-some of them for millennia-the rather shabby history of the real world. But while all around them other plants grow, multiply, and disintegrate into humus, the parallel plants preserve their formal identity intact, like graven images.
If we are now in a position to perceive them, if we are able to observe, measure, and study them, it is in spite of the disturbing absence of any recognizable substance. This "matterlessness," referred to above, would seem to be the result of a sudden halt in time which for causes as yet unknown appears to have affected certain species of plant at various stages in the history of the vegetable kingdom.
Whereas other plants, now extinct, have disintegrated and left no further witness of their life on earth than the occasional fossil imprint or fragment of petrified bark, the parallel plants are, in Spinder's words, "fossils in themselves."8 Neither dead nor alive- conditions both of which would imply a normal passage of time- they are still themselves, entire and perfect in their illusory corporeality after millennia of immobility. It is as if they had been suddenly torn out of time, emptied of matter and meaning, and given over to another order of existence. Like a memory that has taken on actuality, they have preserved of themselves only the outer appearance, a visible three-dimensionality without any substance. Most of these plants, though impervious to any violent acts of nature, disintegrate at the least contact with an object alien to their normal environment, dissolving into dust and leaving only a chemically inert white powder. Their behavior is similar to that of Egyptian mummies that have remained intact for thousands of years in their dark tombs, but which fall to pieces at the first ray of light, leaving only a spectral film of human substance in the bandages. Dulieu observes that these plants are in fact like mummified plants which a strange destiny has seen fit to immortalize not at the moment of death, but at the most significant moment of their life, to preserve in their undisturbed integrity, still protagonists of the landscape in which they stand, exuberant and happy.
The plants of the second group are also conditioned by abnormal and often incomprehensible temporal relationships. But instead of being permanently immersed in the constant flow of external time, they modulate their existence according to changing rhythms, which to our perceptions are unpredictable. While the plants of the first group are motionless in time, those of the second, chimeras of previous existences, move so to speak outside of time, in the man-made amorphous time of our own trains, in an unmeasurable series of sudden spurts and equally sudden halts in the past, in the future, and in the defunct present. They are the concrete image of this capricious non-time, parallel to the time which passes and in which we are accustomed to move.
This "parachronomy," as Spinder calls it, as opposed to the "chronostasis" of the other parallel plants, has implications which we have only recently begun to understand. It was Spinder himself, faced with phenomena that clearly overstepped the bounds of biology, who surmised that these plants can only be understood by means of the principles and methods of phenomenology and perhaps even of psycholinguistics. Connected to us by close psycho-symbiotic links, their presence in a certain sense appears richer and "denser" than that of the plants of the first group, because they grow in the rhythm of our subjective time and eventually take the form of a long and intricate conceptual process. These plants, which for inexplicable reasons lost their real existentiality at some fairly remote point in real time, are today rediscoverable in the eventful landscape of our imaginations, where they reemerge from the authentic distant past, enriched with an ambiguous present, ready to be illustrated, described, and commented on.
Parachrononomy" is therefore the key to their doubly parallel existence. Like the subjects of old portraits they are reborn today, after long repose in oblivion, with a double identity: the one which lives in our imaginations, and the other, now independent, which we see before us in its gilded frame, with its own reality.
In a paper read at the 1973 Antwerp Conference, Hermann Hoem stated: "All the things in the world dwell in us, in the mirror of our consciousness. All our gestures, even the most insignificant, are bound up in some way with a part of the world around us, altering the form of it and enriching it with new meanings. This applies also to our decision to divide the parallel plants into two groups. It reflects the coexistence of two important impulses in us: the impulse toward clarity and the impulse toward ambiguity. One might say that one group is the prose of parallel botany, while the other is the poetry. The plants of the first group are subjected to language a posteriori; those of the second are born from language, and verbal discourse is one of their preexistent conditions. Before being plants, they are words."
But it is in the nomenclature, perhaps because the names are naturally short, that these different relationships between plants and words are at their most convincing. The plant names of the first group reflect a sunny simplicity, as well as the particular circumstances of their origin and existence. Names such as "tiril" and "woodland sugartongs" are clearly descriptive, even though like all new words they are capable of giving rise to secondary images and associative ideas. "All names tell a story," says Hoem.
Names such as "Solea" and "Giraluna" actually precede the existence of the plants themselves and share, like a promise, in their very genesis. These names, which Jean Renon calls "machines a faire poesie," are part of the substance of the plant, like a leaf, a stem, or a flower.
Although parallel botany appeared so suddenly and prominently upon the horizons of science, ten years passed before it was officially recognized. But it was little less than a miracle that in such a short time so much information and evidence could be collected and subjected to the necessary checks and counterchecks, and that contacts could be made on an international level between scientists and research workers, while specialized laboratories were set up in several countries. From the first sensational discovery of the woodland sugartongs in 1963 to the first Parallel Botany Conference in Antwerp in 1970 there was what Spinder has called a "parallel plant rush." News of fresh finds of plants and fossils, of legends and stories related to the subject poured in from all over the world, and there was scarcely an issue of any scientific journal without some theoretical article or bulletin of new discoveries. Books, doctoral theses, dissertations, and even new specialized journals piled up in the libraries of botanical and biological institutes, while in the laboratories work went ahead to improve or adapt the instruments to be used in documenting this new flora, so utterly strange, fragile and elusive. The Antwerp Conference, organized thanks to Cornelis Koolemans of the Royal University of Belgium, was in some sense intended to "place" the new science, to combine many individual efforts into one, to lay the theoretical basis for an understanding of the new phenomena, and if possible to arrive at some form of systematization, even though tentative and provisional.
Koolemans, who by a strange coincidence is the Go champion of Belgium, was in Japan for the Anals of the Zendon Games9 in Tokyo in the autumn of 1963. He had met Sugino Kinichi, a professor at Kyoto University and also a keen Go player, not long after the war at a conference on paleobotany in Paris. It was in fact Sugino who on that occasion had introduced Koolemans to the game of Go, and without ever meeting again they had played interminable matches by correspondence. Koolemans tells how one of these intercontinental matches went on for sixteen months, and he estimates that between 1946 and 1963 their games of Go had cost the two biologists about twelve thousand dollars in postage, telephone calls and telegrams. When they finally met again in Tokyo in 1963, news pl. m came of the discovery of woodland tweezers in a wood near Owari, a find that was to have a dramatic impact on the biological sciences. Koolemans accompanied his friend on the first expedition and was so overwhelmed by the experience that he decided on the spot to devote himself entirely to the new botany. Although his work has been and still is chiefly in the organizational realm, Cornelis Koolemans is considered by his colleagues to be the first parallel botanist. Jacques Dulieu, in his closing speech at the Antwerp Conference, observed that if it had not been for the extraordinary intuition of the Belgian biologist, who from a single plant deduced the existence of a whole new vegetable kingdom, parallel botany would still remain undiscovered.
The idea of dividing the plants of the new botany into two groups was formally proposed at the conference by Koolemans himself and was accepted unanimously by the sixty-eight delegates after scarcely more than an hour of deliberations. But when it came to naming the two groups, things vent rather differently: The debate lasted for nearly two days, but the lively and sometimes factious speeches did serve the purpose of better defining the differences between the two groups, which in the initial euphoria of the conference had not really been outlined with sufficient clarity. The names proposed by the various speakers, in fact, could not avoid describing the characteristics of the plants to which they referred, and thus what should have been made clear in the discussion of the first day's agenda ended up taking the form of a long debate on nomenclature.
The first proposal was made by Spinder. Max Spinder, a scientist of great intuition and inexhaustible energy, is Professor of Urban Botany at the University of Hemmungen. His is a new chair, established at his own insistence, for the study of plant life in urban areas. It may well have been his observation of urban plants, forced to survive in the most preposterous ecological conditions, that led the Swiss botanist to take an increasingly intense interest in parallel botany. His laboratory, probably the best equipped in Europe, has provided him with the ideal conditions in which to carry out basic research into the new science. This research has been amply documented in his recent volume, Parallelbotanik-Forschungen und Hypothesen, published by Hansen Verlag of Zurich.
PL. III Woodland tweezers at the base of a ben tree
In his address to the conference, Spinder reminded his colleagues that in spite of a certain descriptive function, the name of the first group could in fact be entirely arbitrary, while that of the second group ought, like the names of its plants, to express the dreamlike quality, the vagueness, the profound ambiguity characteristic of them. At the same time, he said, it would be risky to burden the taxonomy of a science as young as parallel botany with a nomenclature which subsequent discoveries or experiments might prove ridiculous. "But in spite of this unresolvable dilemma," he concluded, "if we are to avoid cumbrous circumlocutions where any word or sign, even the most abstract, would really suffice to show what we are referring to, it is absolutely necessary that we come to a decision."
Fig. 2. Max Spinder
Realizing that his colleagues would certainly propose names
that contained some allusion to the most salient qualities of the two groups,
he himself suggested for the really existent, tangible, and visible plants
the term "paraverophytes," while for the second group he suggested
the name "anverophytes."
It was this latter suggestion that caused a debate which soon degenerated from the scientific and technical level into useless pseudophilosophical disquisitions on the nature of the real and the unreal, while semeiology, phenomenology, and even ethics were dragged in to support a variety of opinions.
One of the most interesting and significant speeches was that of Jacques Dulieu. To the admiration and amazement of the delegates, the French biologist quoted from memory the four pages of Descartes concerning the division of the things of the world into res cogitans and res extensa, and pointed out how the two groups to be named were a clear and perfect example of the Cartesian categories. He ended by suggesting the names "extendophytes" and "cogitandophytes."
We cannot here give all the proposals in full, varying as they did from the hagiographic "Spindennses" and "Koolemanenses" to the clumsily allusive "parabiogenes" and "imagogenes," and from "heliophytes" and "selenophytes' to "oneirophytes" and "diodeno-phytes."
At the end of the second day of this absurd debate, Ezio Antinelli of the Centre Lombardo per le Scienze Applicate referred the delegates to an article he had written in Vita Parallela, the first periodical in this field intended for the general public, and repeated his suggestion that all plants, both common and parallel, should be divided into "existent" and "inductive." The "existent" plants, he said, revealed themselves as real through the evidence of the senses and scientific instruments. They in turn should be subdivided into "vital" (e.g. pinetree, carrot, narcissus) and "paravital" (e.g. tiril, Plumosa, Labirintiana). The "inductive" plants, on the other hand, are those which "live in a state of intention, waiting to take on form and solidity from an act of will on our part, which describes them." In other words, while recognizing two substantially different groups of plants in parallel botany, Antinelli wished to assign one of them, by using the ambiguous term "paravital," to the borderland of traditional botany, and to isolate the plants which he calls "inductive," and which he considers truly parallel, in a category of their own.
It was the Australian botanist Jonathan Hamston who reminded his colleagues of Spinder's warning, and by so doing brought them back to common sense. He begged the conference to avoid evocative or descriptive names, or those with too specific a content, and to leave the youthful science with enough elbowroom in the matter of terminology. He suggested calling the two groups of plants "Alpha" and "Beta" as a provisional solution. This was welcomed with visible relief by speakers and delegates alike, and on a motion proposed by Dulieu and seconded by Antinelli it was accepted unanimously.
* Dulieu actually referred to an alley for playing boules, scarcely more than half the length of an American bowling alley. [Translator's note,]
1. Franco Russoli, Una botanica inquietante (II Milione, Milan, 1972).
2. A vegetable-lamb is one of the illustrations in the Voiage and Travayle of Sir Jhon Mandeville, Knight, published in London in 1568. This animal-vegetable was also described by Parkinson in his Theatrum Botanicum in 1640, while a century later Erasmus Darwin mentioned it in his Loves of the Plants. It is known as Tartarian, Scytos or vegetable-lamb, but most commonly as Tartarus or Barometz. First found in the Talmud, it appears in Europe during the Middle Ages (1330) in the writing of Odorico di Pordenone, in the form of a lamb fixed to a tree trunk which fed off the grass around the tree. In his Histoire admirable des plantes et des herbes (Paris, 1605), Claude Duret describes Barometz as a lamb whose wool is exceptional for its softness and beauty.
3. Romeo Tassinelli, Scienze al traguardo, various authors (Laguna, Venezia, 1972), pp. 105-22.
4. Remo Gavazzi, "Una rivoluziore vegetale" (Cornere di Verona, April 12,1970).
5. In Hindu mythology Hanuman is a central figure of the Ramayana. Son of a nymph and the god of the vinds, Hanuman, aided by an army of monkeys, helped Rama to save his wife Sita from the demon Ravana by taking boulders from the Himalayas to build a bridge between India and Ceylon.
6. Antola enigmatica is a plant that grows in the Indian state of Orissa as well as in certain parts of Central and South America. Its leaves form minute cups which fill with dew which then pisses drop by drop into the cell-tissue of the plant.
7. Jacques Dulieu, Un outre jardin (Editions La Nuit, Paris, 1973).
8. Max Spinder, Wachsen und Zeitbegriff (Biologische Forschungen, Basel, April 1968).
9. The Zendon Games are the Go championships played every year in Tokyo on the occasion of the festivities known as "Okiri." Go is the Japanese national game, in some ways resembling chess.
The most recent theories in the field of paleobotany trace
the origins of the two botanies to aquatic protoplants, prechlorophyllic algae
of the Ambrian era to which, unfortunately, we have very few clues, and those
practically undecipherable. We do, however, possess fossil remains, of the
next phase of plant life, when a marine alga first put down roots on terra
firma, thus becoming the matrix of all vegetation on dry land. These fossils
were recently discovered in the Tiefenau Valley and its surrounding mountains
by a group of German paleontologists led by Johann Fleckhaus. This tangible
evidence appears once and for all to confirm the thesis which the paleontologist
Gustav Morgentsen of Palen University put forward at the 1942 European Conference
on Botanic History at Smorsk. Those were the days when the Nazi armies were
at the gates of Stalingrad, and the dramatic events of the war were destined
to obscure the scientific importance of that speech, which, we must add, was
received by many delegates with unconcealed skepticism.
However, the recent discovery of the Tiefenau fossils seems to have removed all doubts as to the validity of the hypothesis put forward by the celebrated Norwegian scientist. Twenty years after that historic event they are accepted by the scientific community as a basic dictum without which the explanation we can now give of the evolutionary "grand design" would be no more than a tentative sketch. In the scientific supplement issued by the Smorskaya Gazeta on the occasion of that memorable conference, Morgentsen wrote a brief popular account of his theory, which is now known as Morgentsen's theory of the great winds. He held that the origin of
Fig. 3. Gustav Morgentsen
plant life on dry land is to be assigned to the second half
of the Ambrian era, when for causes still unknown to us the atmosphere was
violently disturbed by vast hurricanes which circled the globe for thousands
of years. The continents were then huge bare islands without the least sign
of life, while in the oceans self-propelling multicellular organisms had already
developed. There were large areas of floating algae at various depths. These
plants were the first to utilize solar energy directly through the operation
of a particular substance, chlorophyll, and by this means to transform water
and carbon dioxide into the sugars and starches needed for their life process.
There were four types of these algae, three colored and one colorless. The colored types, modified structurally to adapt themselves to the increasing saltiness of the oceans, have survived down to our times. The best known are the green algae. Their color is derived from chlorophyll, which in the red and brown algae is disguised by pigments of other colors: phycoerythrin and phycoxantin. But the most common alga during the Talocene and Ambrian (pl. iv) eras was the Lepelara, which has been extinct for at least 100 million years and which must be considered as the true parent of all plant life on dry land. The Lepelara was a single-celled alga shaped like a spoon (the name comes from the Dutch word for spoon, lepel), which on account of its low specific gravity floated nearer to the surface of the water than the other algae. It too achieved nourishment by photosynthesis, but through the medium of a colorless and autogenetic substance similar to chlorophyll, called atrophyll. This was present both in the nucleus, which was in the middle of the rounded and slightly swollen part of the cell, and in the rudimentary canal that ran down the "tail" or "handle" of the cell. The Lepelara was the oldest of the algae, and like many of the organisms then living in the seas it was completely transparent. As it was invisible, the exigencies of survival and even self-presentation did not demand that it have any particular size. There were Lepelara as big as oak trees, others as tiny as the frond of a maidenhair fern. Millions of these algae lay floating near the motionless surface of the waters.
But this primordial paradise, spread like an immense spangled embroidery beneath the monotonous succession of sun and moon, was one day touched by a sudden tremor. A breeze of unknown origin brushed it like the wing of a gull. Sporadic winds began to ripple the surface, and then to rouse it into waves. Scattered storms and waterspouts tore the algae from the water, hurling them back in chaotic frenzy one upon the other. Eventually a number of violent hurricanes came into collision, probably in the area where the Sargasso Sea is now, and this started the rotary movement which was destined for thousands of years to lash the seas and all that floated in them with insane and relentless fury. Whirled up in the spray of the shattered waves, the Lepelara were flung round and round the world, caught in an endless cyclone, to fall back into the raging seas, to disintegrate in the air, or to fall, alone or in groups, on the sterile soil of the continents and great islands. Then one day,
PL. IV Algal Lepelara
the fury of the hurricanes abated and calm returned to the
earth. Millions of Lepelara of all sizes, piled up in crevices, against the
rocky cliffs, between the boulders, and in every little crack or fold in the
earth's surface, began slowly to die, still wet with the spray.
" But see," writes Morgentsen, "how one Lepelara, a 'guided case' in Teilhard de Chardin's phrase, with a sudden mutating burst of inexplicable invention, begins to breathe, to suck, to absorb oxygen, hydrogen, and minerals from the wet earth that partially covers it. Slowly the inert form begins to swell, to become, to be. A wash of color suffuses it, quite faint at first, then more and more intense, condensing to a strange opacity. The transparent alga is now alive and green, ready for the sign from destiny, the gesture that will tell it to rise and grow on dry land, the very first plant in all the earth." (pl. V)
The theory of the great winds was attacked by some of the leading paleontologists and biologists of the time with no lack of irony. Their doubts were perhaps exacerbated by the excessive simplification of the ideas of Morgentsen, and by the lyrical tone of the paper, which at that time was considered in bad taste at a scientific conference. But the younger delegates greeted it as a revelation. Among the Norwegian scientist's most enthusiastic supporters was Spinder, who had attended Morgentsen's courses at Palen and was even then only thirty years of age. Building upon his teacher's ideas he developed his theory of the permanence of form, in which he attempted to show that all plants now extant are derived in some manner from the basic form of the Lepelara. According to this theory, exact analogies of outline with those of the original form, the Urform, provided confirmation that there was one single morphological scheme within which all the earth's flora gave evidence of its evolutionary link with the Lepelara. In support of this, Spinder wrote a book listing and comparing 128 varieties of plant, which he illustrates with meticulous realism in a series of drawings of such beauty that they alone would be a sufficient justification for the book. The theory was bold and original, but in spite of the ample documentation he provided it was not convincing and met with no more success than the work which had inspired it. Spinder himself recently rejected it as too arbitrary, and a mere "youthful caprice." But two years ago the Swiss scientist published a detailed study of the Tiefenau finds, culminating in a most meticulous reconstruction of the alga Lepelara, now recognized as the legitimate forebear of all plant life.
(pl. VI ) The Tiefenau fossils, which are provisionally displayed in a small room in the Hochstadt1 Town Hall, are seven in number. Six of them are about twenty centimeters high while one, the so-called Lepelara Morgentsenii, is bigger, about seventy-two centimeters. Of the six smaller specimens only one bears the complete imprint of the alga, while two are unfortunately in such bad condition that the form can scarcely be recognized. The L. Morgentsenii is broken into three parts, but the imprint of the plant is complete except for one unimportant portion of the caudal section (corresponding to the handle of the "spoon"). It is a tiny magnificent specimen, remarkable for the clarity of its outlines and its precision of detail. It was the analysis of this fossil that enabled Spinder to reconstruct the anatomy of the Lepelara in its most minute particulars. According to the biologist, the "protoplasm" of the Lepelara, which is its living substance, was contained in a rather thick and extremely tough portion of its anatomy. This membrane became much thinner toward the end of the "tail," where a plasmodesma with an exceptionally large opening enabled the cell to absorb oxygen, hydrogen, and other nutritive elements by osmosis. Later in its history the Lepelara developed its first rudimentary root system here.
Unlike the other algae the Lepelara had a proper nucleus, filled with a liquid called karyolymph, and here the filaments of chromatin wound themselves into a tangle of nucleoles, the latter also being composed of spiraling filaments pressed closely together.
We have learned from the most recent biological studies that the Lepelara must have contained in its DNA spiral not only its own plan for future development but the entire evolutionary program of plant life on earth. Piero Leonardi writes: "We are forced to think that these protoorganisms, in their basic makeup, had tendencies that were not left to the mercy of purely fortuitous circumstances, but were coordinated ab initio with a view to producing an organic and interdependent development of all living things, both vegetable and animal."2 Seen in the light of this "law of guided complexities" (Teilhard de Chardin), according to which all living organisms are responsible for the development and equilibrium of the biosphere, the Lepelara takes on an importance which neither Morgentsen nor Spinder could possibly have imagined.
If the Lepelara may be considered the forebear of all plant life on the globe, the Tirillus, judging from what we may deduce from the fossils discovered in various parts of the world, is almost certainly the first parallel plant.
PL. V Lepelara terrestris
Fig. 4 Jeanne Helene Bigny
Fig. 5 The clairvoyant Farah Apsalah Hamid
The startling discovery of an extensive stratum of fossil
Tirillus near Ham-el-Dour in the Luristan desert was made by the French
paleobotanist Jeanne Helene Bigny, wife of the celebrated syndrologist Pierre-Paul
Bigny, who for some years has been carrying out important research at the Sorborne,
chiefly into the hydromagnetic radiations of biomorphic fields. In the background
of this discovery, which after that of the Tiefenau Lepelara is without any doubt
the most important event in the botanical parapaleontology of the century, there
is a curious interweaving of scientific zeal and personal eccentricity that is
worth describing here. The story, which in some of its unusual facets involves
parapsychology and psycholinguistics, was reported by Roger Dadin in a recent
issue of the women's magazine Nous.
Jeanne Helene Bigny, who like her husband teaches at the Sorbonne, is a scientist known for her personal eccentricities as well as her important discoveries in paleontology, and while still assistant to Marcel Declerque she achieved some notoriety. One day she gave voice to an intuition that the fossilized remains of a large Ankylosaurus were to be found in the neighborhood of the Madeleine, in the heart of Paris.
PL.VI Fossil Lepelara from Tiefenau
The young paleontologist, whose uncle Jacob Charbin happened
at the time to be a minister, made such a fuss that she was given permission
to make a trial dig
under the sidewalk that flanks the church, right opposite the Restaurant Duval.
Madame Bigny did not find the fossil, but to the astonishment of all present,
including Roger Dadin, then a reporter on the Figaro de Paris, she unearthed
nothing less than the complete skeleton of a Ceratopsius monoclonius, which
is now on view in the Dinosaur Room of the Musee Grignet.
From that time on, apart from the paleontology which was the field in which she specialized, Madame Bigny began to delve secretly into parapsychology. She began, occasionally at first, to frequent the famous Persian clairvoyant Farah Apsalah Hamid, who among her devotees could boast of such persons as Jean-Roland Bartand, Remi Antinos, Marcel Fouquet, and, so the rumor goes, even the president of the Chambre des Deputes, Robert-Marie Autrac. But once Madame Bigni's interest in parallel botany had been stirred by her friend Gismonde Pascain, director of the Laboratory of the Jardin des Plantes, her visits to the beautiful Persian medium became more frequent.
It was on the fearful evening of August 14, 1971, remembered by Parisians for the violent storms that plunged all the arrondissements north of the Seine into total darkness and brought the entire Metro system to a standstill, that Jeanne Helene Bigny, obsessed by strange presentiments, was sitting at the little round table opposite Madame Hamid. Flashes of lightning, filtered through curtains that flapped wildly in the half-open windows like torn shreds of sails, fell intermittently on the faces of the two women, causing them to float for an instant in the heavy darkness of the room. In spite of the continual rumble of the thunder, and apparently ignoring the frayed nerves of her client, the medium ceaselessly poured forth words, disconnected and incomprehensible. Her fingers, covered with gold rings laden with emeralds and amethysts, vaguely caressed the sinister object that stood with its sharp claws dug firmly into the thick red velvet tablecloth. It was a stuffed salamander whose crystal eyes, unnaturally large and protruding, blazed into life at every flash of lightning.
The scientist sought in vain for some logical connection between the clairvoyant's words, broken as they were by crashes of thunder, and in the end left the apartment in a state of anguish and confusion. It was some days later, in the quiet of her study in the Avenue des Ardennes, that those vague and disconnected phrases suddenly began to drift back into her mind, and the names of Ham-el-Dour, Sarab Bainah, and Tihir El emerged perfectly clear and precise. Madame Bigny had not the least idea what places or people these names might refer to, and yet they had come into her memory with all the solidity of things of our childhood which we have long forgotten and then happen to find in some dusty old trunk.
For days on end she searched for some explanation of the three names, which were clearly of Arabic or Persian origin. She appealed to Madame Hamid more than once, but the medium was unable to shed any light on their meaning; in fact, she denied ever having pronounced the names. But one day, to her amazement, Madame Bigny found them by chance in m old Guide Bleu to the Middle East.
Sarab Bainah turned out to be in area in the great desert zone of Ham-el-Dour in eastern Luristan, and Tihir El corresponded almost exactly to the name of a village in that area, the center of an oasis at the meeting point of the three great caravan routes that cross the desert. Research at the Institute of Middle Eastern Geology revealed that it was near this village that Iranian archaeologists, in collaboration with a team from the University of Pennsylvania, had discovered a necropolis formed of extremely deep burial shafts, in which the successive levels of the tombs indicated a historical continuity of nearly four millennia.
Madame Bigny set off for the desert, sure of having been chosen to make a sensational discovery. She reached the dig at Tihir El at the end of November, and was there able to study a number of very primitive artifacts that had been found at the bottom level of the shaft provisionally designated by the letter F. Among the finds were some fragments of limestone tearing imprints resembling the protocuneiform script of the famous "Gar Tablets," which had been found a few years earlier in the necropolis of Dum Gar Pachinah, only a few hundred kilometers from Tihir El. But while the archaeologists, struck by this surprising analogy, began to point out the significant connections between the two burial places, Madame Bigny at once recognized the clearly fossil origin of the fragments. It was the discovery of these fossils (Fig. 6), in fact, which prompted her to undertake the research that led to the discovery of the famous fossiliferous layer now known as the Bigny Layer.
Many hypotheses have been put forward to explain the mystery of why the name of the desert village of Tihir El so closely resembles that of the fossilized plants found underground in its vicinity. Roger Moseley went into the matter quite recently, and published the results of his research in the Review of Psycholinguistics. Moseley's main thesis is concerned with the unusual relationship between the parallel plant and its name, which is unique in the history of semeiotics because, as he says, it lacks one of the elements of the Bodenbach-Kordobsky triangle: name-thing-thing.
Fig. 6 Fossil tirils from the Bigny Layer
Elsewhere we have seen how in certain parallel plants the
name preceeds the physical existence of the plant itself. According to Moseley,
in the case of the tiril the name exists independently of the thing named,
almost as if it were a reality in itself, with a substance of its own instead
of a mere symbolic function-the very substance which the plant has been denied.
Moseley calls this process "intuitive codification," and as a case
in point he cites the name of the village of Tihir El, founded at the time
of Darius, when the Bigny Layer had for millions of years already lain at what
was then an inaccessible depth.
Domenico Fantero, who has been responsible for a number of excavations in the area, makes the objection that the tiril was known of at the time of Darius in places not far from Tihir El, so that it is by no means out of the question that there were fields of tirils in the neighborhood of the village at the time it was founded. But Moseley quite justly points out that the tiril is never found superimposed on its own earlier beds: "For the tiril to replace its own dead would be an unimaginable compromise with time." He also observes that neither the name Tihir El nor its variant Ti-Hirel has any meaning in the languages and dialects of the largely nomadic peoples who have lived at various times in the Ham-el-Dour desert. Nor, says Moseley, can we suppose for one moment that the name commemorates some historical or divine personage, for in all local religious beliefs earlier than the age of Darius it was "forbidden to transfer the names of kings or gods to the common things of the earth."
With regard to this, Moseley draws attention to the onomatoclastic edict of Aktur,3 which forbade the use of all proper names of persons or places except that of the Emperor himself. This edict resulted in such confusion that the administration of the Empire completely collapsed. Moseley, incidentally, went to Paris and closely questioned the medium Madame Hamid, who assured him that the name had simply "popped out of her mouth," that she could not have known of the existence of the village, and that apart from everything else she had never heard of the Sarab Bainah desert.
Moseley later found out that Madame Hamid was not even Persian, but was born at Arles, in Provence of a Basque father and a French mother. In her youth she had been on the stage, but with scant success. Moseley noticed that on the wall of her room she had a portrait of Sarah Bernhardt, and thus he struck upon the almost incredible similarity between the name of the great actress and that of the Luristan desert of Sarab Bainah. In this writings he often cites this as a typical example of intuitive codification.
In his article in the Review of Psycholinguistics, Moseley traces the history of the name tiril through its many transformations, pointing out a number of evolutionary hiatuses that suggest the existence of what he calls "word islands." He explains that in spite of the total absence of cultural links, for certain kinds of things these "islands" develop analogous terminologies, thus defying any kind of traceable etymological evolution. They tend to confirm the theory that the name existed earlier, and independent of any link with things or ideas. Among the projections of the word tiril in a number of word islands, Moseley quotes the extreme case of the Tabongo of the Mogo. Without having the least knowledge of the plant they use the expression ti-r-hil as a sort of generalized utterance, an exclamation which has no reference to anything whatever, a perfectly abstract swearword.
The Bigny Layer is the most important evidence we have regarding parallel life in prehistory. The size of the bed has not yet been accurately assessed, but it quite possibly extends to three or four hectares. By an odd coincidence other fossil tirils were brought to light in various parts of the world only a few months after the discovery at Tihir El. Though of less importance than the Bigny Layer, they have nonetheless contributed to our knowledge of the plant, chiefly with regard to its very widespread geographical distribution and its survival under the most heterogeneous geological and climatic conditions. A very useful little book published by the Tirillus Society of America, The Fossil Tirillus, lists and describes all the sites where fossil remains of the plants have been found, examining their paleontological characteristics and listing the museums, institutes, and private collections in which the fossils are preserved.
While paleontology has provided fossil evidence of the origin of vegetation on the earth and of the first parallel plants, our knowledge of the gradual or sudden dematerialization of particular plants is still rather sketchy. We know that the two botanies are branches of the same original "tree," but when and how the split took place is for the moment the subject of vague hypotheses based on a few somewhat mysterious discoveries.
On November 28, 1972, exactly a year after the great find at Tihir El, Boris Chersky and Johann von Wandelungen of the University of Freibourg were working not far from the Tiefenau Valley when they unearthed some fossils which might represent the stage of development immediately preceding the mysterious mutation by which the Tirillus vulgaris became the first parallel plant. (pl. VII) The fossils portray a plant rather like an onion, but which is almost certainly a tiril with a large bulbous root. The bigger of the two fossils bears the imprint of a single Tirillus bulbosus, as it is now called, while the smaller one, the famous "Hochstadt fragment" quite clearly shows a somewhat elongated bulb from which sprout two common tirils.
The discovery of a single-stemmed plant with a bulbous root and dating from the Erocene era would in any case have been an exceptionally interesting item of scientific news. What made the discovery absolutely sensational was the fact that the tirils have all the features of parallel plants while the bulbs are clearly to be assigned to normal botany.
The studies later carried out by Spinder into the nature of the cellular tissue, the physiognomy of the single cells preserved in a very thin layer of carbon, as well as the analysis of the remains of cellulose filament, leave no doubt as to the normal plantness of the bulbs. But the fragments of tiril are absolutely identical with those of the Ham-el-Dour desert. They give no sign of any organic quality whatever, and in spite of the perfection of the imprint they betray not the slightest alteration which might be attributed to the normal vital functions of an ordinary plant. They are totally lacking not only in organs but in any kind of cytological structure. Their substance, if one can use such a term, must have been an immobile continuum, even in the subatomic state, and insensitive to impulses of any kind. Spinder has no hesitation in regarding these two fossils as paleontological evidence of the moment when parallel and normal botany went their different ways.
However, there are many unanswered questions, and exactly what internal mutation or external conditioning could possibly have caused such a strange evolutionary anomaly is destined to remain a disquieting enigma for some time to come. If we are now in a position to analyze matter and measure time even in the earliest
PL.VII Fossils of the bulbous tiril
dawn of the history of our planet, we unfortunately do
not possess the means of analyzing non-matter and measuring non-time. One of
the great unknowns of parallel paleobotany involves the dating of specimens.
The fact that, in a sense, the plants are themselves fossils would surely seem
to make it easier to assign them to particular geological periods. But unfortunately
this is not the case. Normal fossils are dated by examining objects found in
the same environment and by comparing them with the fossils of neighboring
organisms. But parallel plants represent a case of substitution, a metamorphosis
that at the moment of its coming into being obliterates the previous existence
without trace. Scientists generally support the hypothesis that the first parallel
plants appeared, give or take a few millions of years, at the beginning of
the second half of the post-Plantain era. But we know that plants which came
within the normal botanical repertory of our forefathers have undergone parallelizing
mutations, and there are even some who speak of processes of dissubstantialization
going on at this very moment. As we see, the period of time in which the phenomenon
takes place is a very lengthy one and for the time being does not allow us
Theoretically, the only certain method of dating a parallel plant would be a radioactive analysis under conditions of thermic saturation, but so far the matterlessness of the plants has proved an insurmountable obstacle. The results obtained by Boris Kalinowski from his carbon 16 test seem to raise hope that in the not too distant future we will have a reliable system for dating all species of parallel plant. The success of the method would also be an important step forward in the study of normal botany. After all, a parallel plant is nothing but the reconcretion of a normal plant at the instant of the sudden and final stoppage of its ontogenesis.
The fossil tirils and those from Tiefenau are the only true fossils which parallel botany has to its credit. They do not seem much, but when one thinks of the unsurmountable obstacle which matterlessness must present to the normal processes of fossilization, their discovery seems little less than a miracle.
Concretions of parallel plants have been found in various parts of the world, but though these objects are doubtless of great importance they are not to be considered real fossils.
In the southern Urals a team of Russian speleologists recently discovered an important stratum in a cave at a depth of 820 meters.
It is said to be rich in fossils of the Erocene era. According to a statement issued by the Paleontological Laboratory at Briskonov, where the specimens are being studied, these include two fossils of the woodland tweezers in a perfect state of preservation. Both Morgentsen and Spinder are of the opinion that these are simply bifurcated forms of Apsiturum bracconensis, but they have postponed any definitive judgment until the Soviet government has given them permission to examine the specimens themselves.
1. A small mining town in West Germany. The castle commands a view of the picturesque valley of Tiefenau. Apart from its important collection of fossils, Hochstadt is famous for the little Hochstadterhof, a hotel where paleontologists from all over the world have left signed photographs in the Fossilien Stube.
2. Piero Leonardi, "La Vita si evtive," in L'Uomo, l'Universo, la Scienza (Edindustria Editoriale, Rome [no date]).
3. Aktur (2680-2615 b.c.) was Emperor of the Anamids. In spite of his insane sadism he reigned for nearly thirty years. He was eventually killed by one of his 120 wives in a harem conspiracy. The episode was immortalized many centuries later by the Persian poet Hayem Ajaf Nazirim.
The difficulties of applying traditional methods of research
to the study of parallel botany stem chiefly from the matterlessness of the
plants. Deprived as they are of any real organs or tissues, their character
would be completely indefinable if it were not for the fact that parallel botany
is nonetheless botany, and as such it reflects, even if somewhat distantly,
many of the most evident features of normal plants. These features or qualities
must be seen in the light of the concept of botanicity ("plantness").
For parallel plants, which often possess no other reality than mere appearance,
plantness is one thing that enables us to recognize and describe them, and,
to some extent, to study their behavior.
What, then, do we mean by plantness?
In substance it is the ideative gestalt, the aggregate of those morphological characteristics which make plants instantly recognizable and placeable within one single kingdom. In other words, it consists of those recognitive elements that make us say of a thing, "It is a plant," or "It looks like a plant," or even "Look, what a strange plant!" This last exclamation, incidentally, gives some idea of how strongly identifiable are the formal characteristics that distinguish plants from all other things on earth. But the process, which seems so elementary, is in reality rather a complicated one. It involves not only the morphological characteristics of the plants and our own possibilities of perception, but also the whole of our complex and ambiguous relationship with nature. Plantness is in fact no more than a particular aspect of the larger concept of organicity, a basic quality common to everything in nature, and the one that usually sets an immediate and unmistakable stamp on outward appearance.
C. H. Waddington, former director of the Institute of Animal Genetics at Edinburgh University, is one of the few scientists who have attempted to describe the formal difference between the products of man and those of nature, relying for evidence not only on the Aulonia hexagona, a singe-celled organism, but also on the sculptures of Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. In an essay on the nature of biological form he pits the problem this way:
If one found oneself walking along the strand of some unknown sea, littered with the debris of broken shells, isolated bones, and old lumps of coral of some unfamiliar fauna, mingled with the jetsam from the wrecks of strange vessels, one feels that one would hardly make any mistakes in distinguishing the natural from the man-made objects. Unless the churning of the waves had too much corroded them, the odd screws, valves, radio terminals, and miscellaneous fitments even if fabricated out of bone or some other calcareous shell-like material, would bear the unmistakable impress of a human artificer and fail to make good a claim to a natural origin. What is this character, which the naturally organic possesses and the artificial usually lacks? It has something, certainly, to do with growth. Organic forms develop. The flow of time is an essential component of their full nature."1
At first sight the growth factor mentioned by Waddington would
seem to be a valid touchstone, but in actual fact it does not really explain
our instant ability to tell natural things from human ones. Growth is a vital
process, of course, but it takes place over long periods of time, and the morphological
changes involved are at the subcellular level, invisible to the naked eye.
We do not see growth, we simply know from previous experience stored in our
memories that something has grown.
The Hungarian biophilosopher Kormosh Maremsh, in his critique of Waddington's theory, observes that if growth is in fact a touchstone for differentiating between the things of nature and those of man, we are going to find it hard to explain decrease. In a particularly brilliant passage, he compares a pebble to a billiard ball and underlines the paradox that while both have reached their final form by a gradual reduction of volume and the simplification of their original forms, the pebble (made of inert material) is still recognizable as a thing of nature while the ball (made of ivory, a living substance) is quite clearly an artifact.
What then is the perceptive process by which, without a moment's hesitation, we tell natural things from the things made by man? What exactly is this quality of organicity that we attribute to the first and deny to the second?
In 1778 Ebenfass (The Living Machine) was the first to introduce the word organisch when referring to living organisms. For the German philosopher the term had in absolutely precise function: to describe a complex of organs arranged harmoniously. But little by little, by analogy of semantic shift, the word took on other and always broader meanings which became increasingly difficult to define. Nowadays we do not think twice about using it to describe the style of a house, the quality of a line, the shape of a swimming pool. But in general we might say that organicity is the quality which typifies the forms of nature and which is lacking in the products of man.
The problem of comparing nature with artifact was already recognized and discussed, though rather superficially and always within the sphere of aesthetics, by a number of Greek philosophers. But it was only many centuries later, with the Enlightenment, that the emergence of a rudimentary scientific technology enabled it to become the object of a more thorough analysis. That it was a topic of the moment in the early nineteenth century is clearly shown, if only by implication, by an Eskimo legend retold by the Canadian ethnologist Philip Welles (Men and Myths of the Northwest, Vancouver, 1842).
Welles, who lived for many years with the Inklit and Tawaida Eskimos, describes the legend as 'a modern fairy tale inspired by contact with the Canadian merchants offering manufactured goods such as balls, glasses, beads, mechanical toys and even watches in exchange for skins, ivory and whale oil." The legend was told to him by the shaman of the village of Foipu, at the foot of the Kwapuna mountains. Here it is;
When the god Kanaak wished to create life on earth the first things he invented were sickness and death, then the ferns, the holm oak and the other trees. Then he invented the bear, the whale, the snow cricket, the beaver and the other animals. Finally he invented man, and he taught him to make things, and to make them in his own image, imperfect. And man made things in this way, and they served him most perfectly. He made the kayak like the pod of the Took tree, and with bones and the fibers of plants he made fish hooks, harpoons and nets. He dressed in the skins of the white wolf and from the claws and teeth of the bear he made necklaces and belts. But one day man discovered that by rubbing one stone against another he could imitate the song of the snow cricket; and he did so. But one of the stones was harder than the other, and after he had been rubbing for e. while man realized that he had made a perfect sphere. When he saw it, man realized that he had sinned against the god Kanaak; and he was afraid. He got up guiltily and tried to hide the sphere in the hollow trunk of the tree which he was leaning against, but it slipped out of his hand and started to roll away. The man ran after it, faster and faster. Kanaak saw it, but did not stop it. As a punishment he made man run after it until he disappeared into the endless darkness of the Kwapuna mountains.
"And he is still running after the perfect sphere," was
the ironic comment of Welles, anticipating by a century our own objections
to an industrial-consumer society.
The first to contrast the notions of nature and artifice, not simply from the conceptual, intellective and moral standpoints, but chiefly from the phenomenological point of view, was Kormosh Maremsh. In his study of organicity, Perception and Nature, a work of fundamental importance to both the study of biology and the understanding of art, he arrives at the following definition of organicity by means of a long and meticulous analysis of technology in which he traces its whole evolution: "the continual struggle of man to dominate the chaotic fatality of nature, to make it comprehensible and foreseeable." Starting from the day on which a man for the first time picked up a stone to keep and use ("the first real human gesture"), he describes the course and the gradual transformation of primitive tools and household objects into the industrial and consumeristic equipment of our own days. He sees in the development of manufactured objects the slow penetration of a language which little by little alters their function, producing more and more abstract forms. While the things of nature have no function other than to exist in themselves, one which they express morphologically by their unity of appearance (Portmann's "self-presentation"2), manufactured things need two efficiency factors, one mechanical, the other symbolic. "On a par with mechanical functionality," writes Maremsh, "man always tends to choose for the things he makes the solution that is richest in message, the most loaded with meaning. And thus the language of objects has undergone a development comparable with that of the language of words: it already has its own grammar, syntax and rhetoric." And again: "The history of technology shows us the gradual transformation of things of use into objects of possession, of utensils that are eloquently mechanical into ritual and abstractly linguistic instruments."
While Maremsh sees this evolution as the result of economic and political struggles, the psychologist Wolfgang Keller thinks he can perceive in it some of the psychological causes inherent in the ideative process. He speaks in particular of what he calls "the geometric impulse," which is in fact the title of a recently published book of his.3 Drawing the distinction between instinct and impulse, the German psychologist writes: "While certain animals possess a rudimentary geometric instinct, usually concerned with the standardized production of a single object (spider's web, honeycomb), only man, gifted with imagination, possesses the capacity to project, to verify, and the irresistible impulse to realize things in concrete terms."
He goes on to explain that "the vision of the imagined thing is as a rule primarily an interpolation, stylized and gestaltic. Its forms appear in the mind not by the gradual and systematic addition of one part at a time, but by the simultaneous emergence of a whole. This ideative process is characterized by an alternation of propositions which is bound to culminate in the choice of the form which, in opposition to the chaos of the real world, best represents a clearly discernible order such as that of geometry.
" The 'design,' which is a proposal to render imagined objects concrete, tends to choose out of all imagined forms the one that is most easily perceptible as gestalt, as an organized geometric whole. This impulse toward geometry, already institutionalized in the profession of 'designer,' is responsible for the proliferation of ever more abstract objects, increasingly in contrast with natural forms."
Keller then observes that the geometric impulse is not confined to the creation of objects but also seems to dominate our interpretation of everything round us, including nature. Unable to accept the chaos which is characteristic of free forms of nature, man imprisons them in definable and measurable schemes, his own body being no exception to the rule.
The result of a lifetime devoted to the measurement of nature, D'Arcy Thompson's vast and comprehensive 1100-page volume On Growth and Form4 gives us all possible and imaginable aspects of mathematics and geometry as applied to living forms, from the growth of Belgian children to that of herrings, from the curves of horns, teeth, and claws to the parabola described by a hopping flea, from the shape of a water drop to the arrangement of leaves on a stem. Designs, diagrams, outlines, and simplifications transform living things into models of the most rigorous symmetry.
In his excellent little volume Natura e geometria, Aldo Montu confesses: "The observation of facts leads to an instinctive rebellion against a geometric simplification and unification that does not make allowance for single events-but in reality there is order in the whole and a great liberty of variation in the particulars, and this determines the harmony of all relations."5 But then, not making allowance for single events, Montu goes on to circumscribe and imprison the free forms of shells, flowers, and leaves in squares, circles, rectangles, triangles, ellipses, and hexagons. Beneath the geometrical figures, however, the photos reveal the chaotic outlines, the chance distribution of spots, the rebellious excrescences, the veins of irregular size and spacing, all of which not only characterize individuality but comprise its sine qua non, that impetuous disorder which eludes measurable generalizations, as do the things of nature.
It is obvious that when we are dealing with the appearances of things and our perception of them, diagrams are just as useless as words. After even the most effective geometric analysis or verbal description the images we seek to evoke remain nebulous and unstable, likely to be deformed by the least touch of interpretation.
Aware of these difficulties, Maremsh has supported his observations with figurative examples of theoretical but real situations from which, by means of the direct comparison of natural and manufactured objects, the meaning of organicity emerges with the greatest clarity.
While recognizing that "it is not possible to teach anyone to read organicity, but luckily we read it as naturally as we walk," the Hungarian philosopher involves us directly in the reading of particular cases in which different levels and degrees of organicity are put face to face. From an examination of the examples, some of which are here reproduced, the concept of organicity gains solidity, free from the restrictive exigencies and misunderstandings of verbal definitions.
Taking Waddington's theory as his point of departure, Maremsh imagines himself on a beach, looking at pebbles. Although the action of the water has blunted the points and worn down any sharp edges, the shapes remain clearly organic and not susceptible to any easy geometrical definition (Fig. 7a). Even in a group of exceptionally regular pebbles, a perfectly spherical object immediately leaps to view as a man-made thing. Any child would recognize a billiard ball as a billiard ball, even if it had been worked on by the action of the sun and the waves, the salt and the grinding sand (Fig. 7b). In the same way, we will have no difficulty in recognizing a pebble in the midst of a group of billiard ball, (Fig. 7c). But Maremsh points out that if one of the balls were split in two we would know it as a billiard ball only "by association." Among the pebbles this split ball would be hard to distinguish as a man-made object because of the aggressive "organicity" of the fracture. "Continual wear," observes Maremsh, "gives human products a certain degree of organicity."
Fig. 7 From Perception and Nature by Kormosh Maremsh
Fig. 8 From Perception and Nature by Kormosh Maremsh
Three versions of a branch with a fruit hanging on it (Fig.
8) form what is perhaps the Hungarian philosophers most noted demonstration.
The illustrations clearly show how eloquently both organicity and inorganicity
survive the most anomalous contexts. In the first version the situation is
completely natural. Although it is not possible to make out the species of
plant, and although it is only a fragment of the whole plant, the branch and
the twig and the fruit do nevertheless compose a whole which indubitably possesses
organicity (plantness). The branch in the second illustration, however, is
immediately read as a stick to which a real twig and real fruit have been inexplicably
attached. The third illustration is a man-made object which we interpret as
a stylized representation of a branch bearing a fruit.
Here (Fig. 9) are some of the famous leaves with which, as in the example above, Maremsh not only shows the characteristics that mark off the organicity of things of nature from the inorganicity of human products but also clearly demonstrates some of the most typical features of plantness. Maremsh here illustrates several of the salient points in the theory he developed in his study The Pathology of the Object, especially regarding the destructive action of man and nature on natural and man-made things respectively. The leaves in these examples are immediately recognizable either as organic or as artifacts (or as we usually say, "true" or "false"). Of this series of illustrations the most interesting are those which show the results of human action on a "real" leaf and that of nature on a man-made leaf: both are situations which, in spite of their patent absurdity, reveal how easy it is to distinguish between organic and inorganic forms.
Kormosh Maremsh used the example of the bagel to show that in spite of considerable alterations in the direction of organicity produced by the action of yeast and fire, the manufactured object loses little of its evident human origin (Fig. 10). There are obviously cases in which the effect of natural forces is so violent that it obliterates the original forms of man-made objects, while in the same way human manipulation can end by completely destroying organic forms (as, for example, in the transformation of raw materials ).
Fig. 9 Maremsh's leaves
Fig. 10 Maremsh's bagel
Turning to aesthetic problems, in which the word "organic" has taken on particular significance, Maremsh gives us the example of four lines (Fig. 11), of which the first was drawn mechanically by man and is clearly inorganic. The second line is disturbed by a fact of organic origin (tremor, error, failure of the machine). The third line is a characteristic detail from a drawing by the American artist Ben Shahn. Many art critics use the term organic to indicate the artist's intention to approach an autonomous organicity in his drawing by means of deliberate hesitations, errors, and imperfections. It is an exceptional and very complex situation in which the artist expresses our ambiguous relation to nature, and in fact sets out to "replace" nature. In the fourth figure we are shown the lines formed by the cracks in an asphalt pavement. According to Maremsh these lines represent "the reacquisition by the soil beneath the pavement of the organicity which man has attempted to suppress."
Fig. 11 Maremsh's lines
The examples given by Maremsh refer as much to the formal
as to the textural qualities, but in spite of the ingenious efficacy of his
method they can provide only partial answers to the basic questions. When we
look at the illustrations given by Maremsh we often have reactions or make
choices that are not explicable except in terms of the knowledge and experience
that have accumulated in our memories. The associations, direct or taught,
which we had with the world of nature (or of men) during our early childhood
have left us with so much intellective and perceptive information that they
alone would enable us to find our way in the intricate landscape in which we
But this inadequately explains our ability to distinguish not only natural things from manufactured ones, but also pebbles from shells, birds from fish, men from monkeys, and plants from all the other things on earth. Although our world is infinitely more complex than the world of animals, we cannot attribute our gift for generalization simply to our human characteristics. "It is not difficult," concludes Maremsh, 'to perceive the difference between the organicity of natural things and of man-made objects. But we must at the same time admit that neither my dog Fidel nor my goat Caroline has ever made a mistakes."
Taking the work of Maremsh as his starting point, the morphologist Adolf Boehmen has made organicity in botany his chief concern. "Plantness," he explains, "Is nothing but the generalization of those particular organic qualities which plants have in common." He goes on to list these aspects as immobility, verticality, color, and texture, and he examines their nature and meaning in great detail in his book Notes Toward a Vegetable Semantics. Boehmen goes particularly deeply into the examination of textures, which in some cases provide a determining key to perception. Especially well-known is his experiment in the interpretation of pictures of a lemon, described in the book and illustrated with the original photos used in the test. The experiment consisted of naming a certain fruit represented in several very clear photographs. One of these was an accurate color reproduction of a lemon, seen from the side. Another showed the same fruit in black and white. In the third the lemon was colored orange, while the fourth showed an orange colored lemon yellow. Obviously the reading of the first photo presented no difficulties, while the picture in black and white produced similar results (97 percent of those interviewed recognized it as a lemon). But the orange-colored lemon was interpreted by 86 percent as an orange, and the lemon-colored orange by 91 percent as a lemon.
From this particular case Boehmen deduced that in our assessment of plantness we give priority to color (which can easily deceive us) and only in its absence do we turn our attention to form and texture, which either by analogy or by previous experience will reveal the object specifically as a lemon, less specifically as a fruit, and generically as belonging to the vegetable kingdom.
The experiments of the Austrian morphologist are of particular importance to the understanding of parallel botany, which in the vast majority of cases presents only form and texture as identifying characteristics. Its recent discovery precludes the possibility that our immediate recognition of it as part of the vegetable kingdom was in any way conditioned by previous direct experience. The absence of color, the frequently disquieting contexts, and the morphological oddities of the separate parts might well obscure our reading of it. In spite of this, the plantness of the whole and of its textural qualities is so evident as to leave no doubt that the parallel plants belong with the other flora of the earth; and only a more detailed study of them will reveal them as parallel.
Among the specific cases examined by Boehmen is one of particular interest, possessing the morphological characteristics of both parallel flora and human artifacts. This is the Solea preserved in the little museum at Backstone, Massachusetts. The plant is a reconstruction dating from the end of the eighteenth century and attributed to a certain Franco Casoni, an Italian immigrant of Ligurian origin, who established himself and his family at Backstone in somewhat obscure circumstances. There he worked as a wood carver, making a good reputation in his profession, especially for the decorative carvings of flower motifs which still adorn the interiors of the white aristocratic houses of the little New England town. His model of the Solea was made under the direction of an Irish seaman, Dominic McPerry, who declared that he had seen the original plant on an island in the Carades Archipelago. This Solea, of which the Laboratorio delle Campora possesses a plaster cast, is one of the most perfect known to us. Its plantness is exemplary, in the sense that it expresses all the most characteristic features of plantness to perfection: the utter verticality, the immobility so extreme that it seems to place it outside time, the organic quality of the protuberances and excrescences, even the marks of disease and the wounds (an interesting case of paramimesis) all contribute, in spite of a strange inadequacy of term, to stamp it unequivocally as a parallel plant, typically lacking in any kind of function or meaning. Although in fact it is made by a man, its presence-so clearly an end in itself-has that mysterious quality of self-presentation that Boehmen terms "Selbstsein."
The Backstone Solea is mounted on a base of darker wood, also in all probability the work of Casoni. It speaks as eloquently of its man-madeness as the sculpture it supports speaks of its plantness. It is what an accessory should be, in the sense that it serves to complement another object in a clear functional relationship. This base is round and stands on three spherical knobs, to avoid possible damage from insects or damp, while at the same time guaranteeing the maximum of stability. Three concentric circles, equally spaced, with no function other than the purely aesthetic, give the whole thing a modest pretension that in the context of a small-town museum qualify it at once as a "museum piece." If the Solearepresents nothing other than itself, the forms of the base clearly portray the usual functions of the human artifact. Plant and base together are an eloquent symbol of the conflict between the two kinds of thing which populate our world.
An organicity of the botanical type is the most obvious and the most general aspect of parallel flora. The absence of organs, functions, matter, and growth prevents us from describing parallel plants analytically. While treatises on normal botany have long chapters on evolution, cytology, nutrition, reproduction, and the growth of plants, parallel botany, matterless by nature, gives us nothing we can analyze except its morphology. But as we have observed elsewhere, the known species are few, and the specimens rare and difficult of access. In the same way a systematic morphology, based on a sufficient number of separate observations to arrive at statistically valid findings, is not possible. Unfortunately we have to be content with the reports and the observations recorded in scientific journals, and even these are sporadic and not always reliable.
Regarding the size of the plants there is not much to add to what is known of botany in general. As for normal plants, there is great variety even within a single species. Naturally enough there are no variations due to growth: growth does not occur in parallel botany, its plants being the result of a permanent stoppage in time. The size of known and documented plants varies from that of the Ninnola preciosa, which never exceeds three millimeters in height, to the Fontanasa Stalinska, which Muyansky describes as "taller than the
PL. VIII Kumode plants
famous oak in Pushkin Park." There are Giraluna ten centimeters
high, while the tallest Giraluna gigas in the Lady Isobel Middleton group measures
nearly four meters in height. While the Solea does not in general exceed a
meter and a half, we do know of a Solea argentea (the one from Amendipur) which
reaches three meters. Within the same species the greatest variation in size
is met with in the parallel pseudofungus Protorbis, which ranges from the few
centimeters of the Indian P. minor to the twenty-two meters and more of the
Protorbis which compete in bulk with the mesas of Colorado and New Mexico.
One unusual and rather disturbing case is that of the dimensions of the Anaclea discovered by Kamikochi Kiyomasa of Osaka University. About fifteen kilometers from Nara, the ancient capital of Japan, famous for its temples and monuments, among which is the gigantic statue of the Buddha called Daibutsu, there is a picturesque valley from the floor of which, like a large island, rise seven hills which are vaguely reminiscent of the arrangement and proportions of the seven hills of Rome. The collective name for these hills is Kumosan, from the plant called kumode, similar to the myrtle, (pl. VIII) which covers almost their entire surface. In the late spring the kumode puts forth a violet flower with seven petals, the wonderfully sweet smell of which attracts millions of bees from every corner of Yamashima province. The famous honey called gokumodemono gets its special flavor from these flowers. In the procession with which the picturesque celebrations of Ura Matsuri begin, the gokumodemono is borne aloft in a bronze vessel dating from the eighth century and then poured out onto the feet of the Daibutsu, to the sound of sacred hymns and prayers.
Kamikochi, one of the most renowned Japanese biologists, was born at Nara. A devout Buddhist, he goes back each year to Nara for the Ura Matsuri festivities, and he often retires to a rush cabin in the valley of Higashitani, near the hills of Kumosan, for a week of spiritual exercises. It was during his retreat in 1970 that Kamikochi made his spectacular discovery. While he was out for a walk his eye happened to fall on a cluster of unusual flowers on a hilltop, nestled among the kumode. They were about a hundred meters from where he was standing. He was unable to make out their color because they appeared as black silhouettes against the bright sky, but their shape seemed very strange. He found it hard to estimate their size because, apart from the surrounding kumode, he had nothing to compare them with.
Kamikochi decided to take a closer look at the flowers and started walking toward the hilltop. On the way he realized that something very bizarre was taking place. Unlike what usually happens when we approach an object we have seen from a distance- which gradually appears larger until, when we are near enough to touch it, it assumes its proper dimensions-these plants did not seem to get bigger as the biologist approached them. When Kamikochi reached the hilltop they turned out to be just as small as they had appeared from a hundred meters away.
At first he was inclined to attribute this phenomenon to the long hours of meditation which he had practiced before his walk. But when he repeated the experiment the result was identical. He did it a third time, taking care not to lose sight of the plants for an instant, and after that he was quite certain that as he drew nearer the plants their apparent size did not alter in the least.
A few weeks later Kamikochi returned with a number of his pupils to study the problem, which he called "metrostasis" and which he described in a paper at the botany congress held in Tsuchimachi in 1974. He said that the flowers were of the species (pl. IX) Anaclea taludensis, and measured at the most fifteen centimeters in height. They are completely black, and there is not the remotest doubt that they belong to parallel botany. It is impossible to pick them, as they vaporize instantly on contact with a hand or any other object that is not part of their normal ecological environment.
Kamikochi, though admitting that he was unable to give a scientifically satisfactory explanation of the phenomenon, attributes it to the immobility in time characteristic of parallel plants, and quotes Leibschmidt's law to the effect that "for every immobility in time there is a corresponding immobility in space."
"The type of perspective," he explains, "that reduces the image of a distant object in proportion to its distance from the point of observation presupposes a normal time-space relationship. A change in the fundamental qualities of one of the two elements must of necessity imply a change in the other." If at first sight Kamikochis argument appears irreproachable we are led to ask ourselves why it is that the other parallel plants are not subject to the same phenomenon.
PL. IX. Anaclea taludensis
A team of neurologists, psychologists, and opticians at the
University of Osaka is now working on the problem of metrostasis. It is by
no means impossible
that certain plants might have disturbing effects on human eyesight. Harold MacLohen,
in an article in the Chicago Times, reminds us of how recently in human history
we have come to accept mere image' as reality. "For millions of spectators," he
observes, "the leading personalities of our time-athletes, statesmen,
pop singers, and scientists-are at most ten inches tall. We accept their rather
dubious dimensions without ever being able to verify them in person."
The colors of plants and their morphological characteristics are part of the language in which they carry on their dialogue with the world. It is by these means that they transmit important messages regarding personal identity and survival. The color green, characteristic of the stems and leaves, is a secondary effect of chlorophyll. It expresses the harmonious functioning of the vital processes for which chlorophyll, as an intermediary of nutrition, is largely responsible. When these processes are damaged by pathological conditions or suspended by the seasonal drying-up of the plant, the color alters and signals what is happening.
The function of the other colors, particularly that of the flowers, is more mysterious. While the green informs us of the health of the individual plant, and is therefore a simple affirmation, the other colors are invocations, invitations, questions. They have to do not so much with the survival of the individual as with that of the whole species. As Hamilton puts it: "For plants, by a cruel fate deprived of motion, colors are a silent language of love, desperate and passionate, a language which birds and insects, their winged messengers, carry to distant lovers also ineluctably fastened to the earth."6
This English biologist is of the opinion that for parallel plants, "fixed not in earth but in an inert time," the problem of survival does not exist. As a result, color as an instrument or a signal would only be justified as a paramimetic phenomenon, that is, as a trick to disguise their true nature. "When this happens," he adds, "we can assume the existence of an exceptional anomaly, because parallel plants are without any life as it is lived in the flow of time, and they therefore have no need for color." Hamilton's remarks, which at first seem logical enough, contain two basic flaws. To begin with, when he asserts that parallel plants have no color because they do not need it he clearly ignores the recent departure from traditional evolutionary theories. Portmann has opened our eyes to the fact that many natural phenomena, traditionally thought to have some functional significance with regard to survival, are, in fact, entirely gratuitous and inexplicable in rational terms. Second, if it is true that we cannot speak of a real color in the case of parallel plants, partly because their surface is just the external limit of an interior, their visibility must nevertheless be expressible in chromatic terms. If the variations in their degrees of opacity and the indefinable nuances of black sometimes seen like a lack of color, a void in the colored world that surrounds them, in reality these characteristics are positive and typical of parallel plants, directly connected with their mode of being. It is not easy to describe and explain these characteristics, for they are as elusive and ambiguous as the plants themselves. Jean Parottier writes: "While the colors of normal plants share the hard certainty of sunlight, those of the parallel plants seem to hang in the dreamlike ambiguity of the darkness of night." And again: "The colors of these plants aspire to the condition of night. And as it is hard to find a pure black even on the darkest night, so it is with the parallel plants."
The gamut of blacks in parallel plants ranges from "tete de negre," as warm and mysterious as a bronze by Rodin, to the cold and hostile black which Delacroix called "bois brule." But it is the strange sheen of these different nuances of black that gives the parallel plants their curiously matterless and sometimes almost spectral appearance. It is like a skin of light within the pigments, causing both the shadows and the strongly lighted areas to lose their outlines. The surface of the parallel plants more than anything else resembles the patina found on ancient bronzes, which is also difficult to describe, not because it has no color but because the slow wearing away of time has mitigated its arrogant aggressiveness, that presumptuous self-confidence typical of man's artifacts when they are new, and of the things of nature when they are young.
The discovery which Theodor Nass made accidentally, and which aroused a great deal of interest some years ago, has revealed some mysterious and disquieting aspects of the chromatic features of parallel plants, aspects that may one day lead us to a fuller understanding of what he calls "parallel black." During a period of research at the Laboratorio delle Campora, the famous Swiss scientist inserted part of the Solea fortius, one of the most valuable specimens in the great Chianti collection, into a block of polyephymerol, a new plastic with as yet unexplained properties of refraction, for which it is widely used for the lenses of Bonsen refractometers. If polyephymerol is cut and set at a certain angle it reveals characteristics similar to those of laser beams. Nass in fact was using it to make three-dimensional measurements of the growth-spiral visible all around the Solea, which Nass suspected might show analogies with the DNA spiral.
When he had inserted part of the Solea into the cube he found to his astonishment that inside the plastic this plant, normally one of the blackest of all parallel plants, appeared vividly colored. Nass, completely unable to give a logical explanation for this, put forward the hypothesis that the dark patina of the plant could in fact be merely the upper layer of a number of superimposed colored layers, a kind of screen which usually conceals the pigments and which with the aid of polyephymerol we are able to penetrate. The Solea with its center encased in the plastic cube was shown at the Parallel Botany Exhibition arranged in conjunction with the Offenbach Conference of 1973, where its mysterious chromatic behavior attracted the attention of the world's press. In an interview with the Frankfurter Tagesblat, Nass among other things revealed that polyephymerol contains a derivative of amitocaspolytene, a rare and highly poisonous substance. This imprudent statement gave rise to an inquiry on the part of the German authorities, which is still going on. The chairman of S.I.M.A., producers of polyephymerol, gave a press conference in which he assured journalists that all due precautions had been taken to protect the health of workers and laboratory staff, and that the final product was perfectly inert and harmless. By way of demonstration he showed a photo of himself standing beside his three-year-old son Johann, who was holding in his hands a shapeless lump of polyephymerol. At a second press conference Nass declared that further tests carried out by him into the toxic nature of the material had shown completely negative results.
Following the Offenbach Conference, Nass obtained a grant from the Geremia Pirelli Foundation to enable him to continue his experiments, extending them to other parallel plants and even to species of normal botany. The first results, though varying greatly in intensity, were similar to those obtained with Solea fortius. With normal plants, on the other hand the phenomenon did not occur at all. Only one part of the stem of a Princess Grace rose under the plastic showed a slight bluish tinge which, according to Nass, might be the beginning of a mutation, the prelude to a possible parallelization of all roses. This strange phenomenon, which is now known as the Nass chromation, has not yet been satisfactorily explained. Nass carries out his experiments in great secrecy, and is retiring and evasive even with his colleagues in the laboratory. There has also been no explanation of how professor Vanni,7 director of the famous Italian laboratory, who has a reputation as a prudent scientist and a meticulous administrator, could have allowed Nass to experiment on the rarest and most precious of his whole collection of Solea, thereby risking its total disintegration. Maybe these and other questions will be answered at the forthcoming conference on parallel philosophy, due to be held in Tokyo in 1978. Both Nass and Vanni will be among the speakers on that occasion.
1. C. H. Waddington, "The Character of Biological Form," in Aspects of Form: A Symposium on Form in Nature and in Art, edited by Lancelot Law Whyte (Pellegrini and Cudahy, New York, 1951).
2. Adolf Portmann uses the term "self-presentation" (in Le forme viventi, Adelphi, Milan, 1969) to mean the sum total of the external characteristics of living organisms and their "coming to light." He explains: "It is composed not only of the optical, acoustic and olfactory characteristics of the individual in a state of repose, but also of all those manifestations of himself in time and space which go beyond the functions of preservation, selection and immediate utility."
3. Wolfgang Keller, Erscheinungflehre (Institut fur Geometrische Forschungen, Dusseldorf, 1970).
4. D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson, On Growth and Form (The Syndics of the Cambridge University Press, 1917)
5. Aldo Montu, Natura e geometries (Melocchi Editore, Milan, 1970).
6. Eric Hamilton, Parallel Color in Biological Research, A Symposium (Hartman and Coyle Ltd., London, 1969).
7. Marcello Vanni has been director of the famous Laboratory of Parallel Botany at Le Campora, Radda-in-Chiaiti, since 1969. He graduated from the University of Vienna, where he studied under Hermann von Kranenbogen. At Holtsville University in 1964 he gave a series of lectures on "Diagonality in Botany" which were the prelude to his present activities. He has recently been specializing in studies on the Solea and processes of transhabitation.
General Introduction 3
THE PLANTS 57
The Tirillus 59
Tirillus oniricus 62
Tirillus mimeticus 64
Tirillus parasiticus 67
Tirillus odoratus 68
Tirillus silvador 70
The Woodland Tweezers 73
The Tubolara 78
The Camporana 80
The Protorbis 86
The Labirintiana 95
The Artisia 100
The Germinants 112
The Stranglers 117
The Giraluna 119
Giraluna gigas 134
Giraluna minor 1 43
The Solea 145
The Sigurya 162
The Gift of Thaumas 173