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Rudolf Steiner and the Upside Down Tree

Updated: Dec 11, 2021

By David St Maur Sheil

The Conscious Tree, David St Maur Sheil 2021


I started this painting last year to help me explore some thoughts around Rudolf Steiner’s insights on trees and how they are supported by recent scientific research. I couldn’t post it until I returned to the UK, during which I turned some of these insights over in my mind. I’m glad to have the opportunity to share it now.

In the summer of 1924 Rudolf Steiner gave a series of lectures to a group of land-owners and farmers at kobetwitz in Austria. This Agriculture Course became the origin and foundation for the practice of biodynamic agriculture, which is now accepted by many as an advanced fully holistic approach to organic agriculture. Practitioners focus primarily on Steiner’s advice on sowing according to a biodynamic calendar, which is based on the traditional and detailed sowing calendars and knowledge of pre-industrial farmers, and also on the preparing and use of biodynamic preparations. However I wish to focus on his lesser considered insights into plants and trees.


I could lace this with many quotes from Rudolf Steiner however I am just going to summarise some of his main points in a simple way and I apologise in advance if this loses some of the subtleties.



Plants can be seen as Standing on their Heads


The surface of the earth acts as a diaphragm.


Steiner compares the surface of the earth to a skin or diaphragm. Comparing a plant to a human he notes that above our waist we have our head and breathing. Below are our digestive and reproductive organs. For plants you can reverse this. The head or consciousness of plants is primarily below the surface as if a tree is standing on its head! The digestive and reproductive parts of the tree are primarily above the surface, with the trunk and branches acting as a digestive system and the fresh growth providing energy and also reproductive functions.


In cartoons we tend to see trees with faces on their trunks. However it would be more accurate to draw the faces under the earth. Huge recent advances in understanding the interconnections of root and fungal networks with the soil, forming something similar to the neural networks in the brain, leads us to more readily understand that the consciousness of plants including trees and indeed whole forests is primarily under the surface. If we alter our perspective to accept this it will completely alter both our understanding of the soil and the way we respond to plants when working on a farm or garden, or wandering through woodland. When we feel the consciousness of the woodland that surrounds us we will feel the trees responding to the vibrations of our footfalls as they reverberate in the sensitive networks under our feet.

The root and interconnected fungal networks are like the neural networks in our brains.



Plants Support and Nurture Each Other


During the winter when the plants above ground seem to be stilled or even dormant we would recognise that all the energy of plants has retreated under the surface and is at its most active under the ground. Plants also interconnect with each other via the fungal networks and older and healthier plants can nurture and support young or ailing plants through such as the sharing of nutrients.


Plants nurture each other through their root and fungal networks <