Goethe's Phases of Plant Development - An article by Rudolf Steiner
Steiner's Goethean Plant - Phases of Plant Development
At first the whole plant, in all its potential, rests, drawn together into one point, in the seed (a).
It then comes forth and unfolds itself, spreads itself out in leaf-formation (c).
The formative forces thrust themselves apart more and more; therefore the lower leaves appear still raw, compact (cc'); the further up the stem they are, the more ribbed and indented they become.
What formerly was still pressing together now separates (leaf d and e).
What earlier stood at successive intervals (zz') from each other appears again in one point of the stem (w) in the calyx (f). This is the second contraction.
In the corolla, an unfolding, a spreading out, occurs again.
Compared with the sepals, the petals (g) are finer and more delicate, which can only be due to a lesser intensity at one point (i.e., be due to a greater extension of the formative forces).
The next contraction occurs in the reproductive organs (stamens (h), and pistil (i)), after which a new expansion takes place in the fruiting (k).
In the seed (a) that emerges from the fruit, the whole being of the plant again appears contracted to a point.
The whole plant represents only an unfolding, a realization, of what rests in the bud or in the seed as potentiality.
Bud and seed need only the appropriate external influences in order to become fully developed plant forms.
The only difference between bud and seed is that the latter has the earth directly as the basis of its unfolding whereas the former generally represents a plant formation upon the plant itself.
Vine Ivy Leaves
REPETITION OF LEAVES
By determining its life, as it were, out of one point, that entelechical principle confronts us in the plant in such a way that all its individual organs are formed according to the same developmental principle.
The entelechy manifests here as the developmental force of the individual organs. These last are all fashioned according to one and the same developmental type; THEY MANIFEST AS MODIFICATIONS OF ONE BASIC ORGAN, AS A REPETITION OF THIS ORGAN AT DIFFERENT LEVELS OF DEVELOPMENT.
What makes the plant into a plant, a certain form-creating force, is at work in every organ in the same way. Every organ appears therefore as identical to all the others and also to the whole plant.
Goethe expresses this as follows:
'I have realized, namely, that in that organ of the plant which we are usually accustomed to address as 'leaf,' the true Proteus lies hidden that can conceal and reveal itself in every formation. Anyway you look at it, the plant is always only leaf, so inseparably joined with the future germ (Keim) that one cannot think the one without the other.'
(Goethe, Italian Journey, 1787)
Thus the plant appears, as it were, composed of nothing but individual plants, as a complex individual consisting in turn of simpler ones.
The development of the plant progresses therefore from level to level and forms organs; each organ is identical to every other, i.e., similar in formative principle, different in appearance. The inner unity spreads itself out, as it were, in the plant; it expresses itself in manifoldness, loses itself in this manifoldness in such a way that it does not gain-as the animal does, as we will see later-a concrete existence which is endowed with a certain independence and which, as a centre of life, confronts the manifoldness of the organs and uses them as mediators with [respect to] the outer world.
EXPANSION AND CONTRACTIVE PHASES GIVING RISE TO DIFFERENTIATION
The question now arises: What brings about that difference in the appearance of plant organs which, according to their inner principle, are identical? How is it possible for developmental laws that all work according to one formative principle to bring forth at one time a leaf and at another a petal? In the case of plant life, which lies entirely in the realm of the external, this differentiation can also be based only upon external (i.e., spatial) factors.
Goethe regards an alternating expansion and contraction as just such external factors. As the entelechical principle of plant life, working out from one point, comes into existence, it manifests itself as something spatial; the formative forces work in space. They create organs with definite spatial forms. Now these forces either concentrate themselves, they strive to come together, as it were, into one single point (this is the stage of contraction); or they spread themselves out, unfold
themselves, seek in a certain way to distance themselves from each other (this is the stage of expansion). In the whole life of the plant, three expansions alternate with three contractions. Everything that enters as differentiation into the plant's formative forces which in their essential nature are identical-stems from this alternating expansion and contraction.
(Rudolf Steiner, Goethean Science, GA1, 1883)