Plant kingdom

From Anthroposophy

The plant kingdom goes from algae and fungi over mosses and ferns over flowers, bushes and trees: over 300.000 species are classified in botany. The plant kingdom is the basis for most of Earth's ecosystem, and Man has learned to master it to produce grain, fruit and vegetables as human food. Materialistic science sees the plant as producing oxygen for the earth and studies a.o. the plant seeding process and photosynthesis.

From a spiritual scientific point of view, the physical plants we see on earth are permeated by an etheric body, but have an astral body around the earth and their group soul in the lower spirit world.


Spiritual science considers the plant from the following perspectives.

First, the plants as spiritual beings: What is a plant?

  • the plant's I-consciousness are the group souls in lower spirit world.
    • There are seven plant group souls belonging to the earth and corresponding to seven spheres varying in size with their spiritual center in the center of the Earth. It are these spiritual beings that impel the plants out of the earth. The plant root grows towards the centre of the earth, because what it really wants is to reach the centre of the earth, where is the centre of the spiritual being to which the plant belongs.(1912-01-01-GA134)
  • with the astral body of the plants around the earth
  • and etheric and physical body on earth.

The form is given by the zodiac, the growth process by the planets, and the metabolism by the earth (1922-07-22-GA213)

Nature's yearly seasonal process: the growth process

For a spiritual scientific explanation of how the yearly alchemical process of nature runs through the seasons on earth, see Rhythm of a year (e.g. FMC00.249). The base elements are explained below.

  • on earth, the working together of the elementals of nature and the higher ethers,
    • Undines carry the action of the chemical ether into the plants; sylphs the action of the light-ether and fire-spirits the warmth, and carry it into the blossoms of the plants into the plant's blossoms (1923-11-02-GA230, explained in depth in 1923-11-GA230 - see below)
  • form of te plants
    • the form-giving formative forces are worked by the second Elementary Kingdom (from lower spirit land) - see Schema FMC00.142D below and two references: RSL 1907-12-04-GA098 below, and the key passage of 1916-04-13-GA167 (on Rhythm of a year)
    • there is a relationship between the form of plants and the fixed stars constellations (1922-07-22-GA213 below)
  • and coordination done by the hierarchy of archangels along the rhythm of the yearly Earth cycle

the above maps, in terms of epistemology and building up of a spiritual scientific understanding, to ao

Other aspects to consider are:

  • the relation with other kingdoms (eg bees, feeding animals)
  • the evolutionary aspect of how the plant kingdom arose as offspring of the hierarchy of the Spirits of Wisdom during the Old Sun evolutionary stage, as fruits of the thoughts of the archangels, see oa FMC00.147 and FMC00.149 in Four kingdoms of nature

Application areas are:


The illustration below depicts that a plant doesn't just grow with water and sunshine, as is thought in school. As a start, we can study the processes of photosynthesis (above the ground) and transmutation (under the ground). The first is accepted and studied in mineral science (though incompletely), the second currently not at all, resulting in an incomplete understanding.

As always we have to look at everything as the workings of spiritual beings, and in this case they are called Elementals of nature and the beings of The elementary kingdoms that are the forces behind the higher ethers, as schema FMC00.009A depicts.


Schema FMC00.195 illustrates the same with BBD and lecture reference and extract:


Schema FMC00.150 is an illustration (by Catherine Van Alphe, in 'Plant Study Manual') to symbolize that we should study not just the effect of sunshine and the water cycle in plants (as per mineral science) but also of etheric and astral forces, and do this in an alchemical way.


Schema FMC00.142D is a variant of master schema FMC00.142 used for the Golden Chain. It shows the physical body of plants as we see it around us in nature, and the plant consciousness: the Group soul of plants, lying just as the second Elementary Kingdom in the lower spirit world. The schema does not show the plant kingdom's astral body, which is spread out across Earth. For an explanation of the yearly process of nature along the seasons on earth, see Rhythm of a year.


Lecture coverage and references

The following extract of 1907-12-04-GA098 describes the second Elementary kingdom

.. the second Elementary Kingdom moulds and forms the shapes of the plants. But its activity extends also to the human being — to his many elements which have a plant-like character — nails, hair, etc.

(Hair and nails are products from which the astral body has already withdrawn, they are not permeated by the astral body (any more, as was the case before) but merely by the etheric body; for this reason they feel no pain and it is possible to cut them, without causing pain.)

Many things in the human being are of a plant-like nature, and within all these plants-like elements, the beings of the second Elementary Kingdom are active. Hence, that which builds up the body of a plant consists of the forces belonging to the second Elementary Kingdom.

Within the plant are active both the plant 'I' (which permeates the etheric and astral bodies) and these beings of the second Elementary Kingdom. Whereas the I of the plants works upon the plant from within, these other Beings work upon it from without — forming it, making it grow and blossom.

The whole plant is permeated by an etheric body. But it does not possess an astral body of its own; instead the entire astral body of the Earth forms the common astral body of the plants. The I of the plants is to be found at the center of the earth. This is true for all plants.

For this reason, if you pull up a plant by the roots you cause pain to the earth; but, if you pick a flower, the earth will have a feeling of well-being, as a cow has a feeling of well-being when her calf sucks her milk. It is also a wonderful experience when the corn is moved in the autumn, to see how great waves of well-being streamed over the earth.

The Beings which work upon the plants, from out of the second Elementary Kingdom, and help it to take form, fly toward the plant from all sides, like butterflies. The renewal and repetition of the leaves, blossoms, etc., is their work. This is what acts upon the plants from out of the second Elementary Kingdom.

... The leaves, etc., of the plants are formed by the second Elementary Kingdom; this work consists chiefly of repetitions.

... the plant owes its form entirely to the second Elementary Kingdom — for, without it, it would be spherical.

Introductory lecture 'the spirit in the realm of plants' is 1910-12-08-GA060 1912-01-01-GA134 covers the seven group souls of plants (SWCC)

When we go beyond what our senses can behold of the plant, we come to the group souls of the plants, which are related to the single plant as a whole to a part. Altogether there are seven group souls — plant souls — belonging to the earth, and having in a way the centre of their being in the centre of the earth.

Hence it is not enough to conceive of the earth as this physical sphere, but we have to think of it as penetrated by seven spheres varying in size and all having in the earth's centre their own spiritual centre. And these spiritual beings impel the plants out of the earth.

The root grows towards the centre of the earth, because what it really wants is to reach the centre of the earth, and it is only prevented from pushing right through by all the rest of the earth matter which stands in its way. Every plant root strives to penetrate to the centre of the earth, where is the centre of the spiritual being to which the plant belongs.

You see how extraordinarily important is the principle we laid down — to go always to the whole in the case of every being or creature, to see first whether it is a part or a whole.

Some scientists look upon the plants as ensouled, but they look upon the individual plant in this way. That is no cleverer than if we were to call a tooth a man; both stand at the same mental level. To look for individual souls in the separate plants is to say: I will extract a tooth from a human being and look in it for a human soul. The plant soul is not to be found in the single plant but has its most important point in the centre of the earth, whither the root tends, for the root is that force in the plant which strives ever towards the most spiritual part of plant existence.

1912-04-06-GA136 makes the link with the second hierarchy H2, and also mentions the 'lily and tulip' topic

Now in these beings of the Second Hierarchy we can distinguish several categories just as we did among the beings of the Third Hierarchy. To distinguish between these categories will be more difficult, for the higher we ascend the more difficult it becomes. We must in the course of our ascent, first of all gain some idea of all that underlies the world surrounding us, in so far as the world around us has forms. I have already said that as regards this second stage of clairvoyance, we need only consider that which lives, not that which appears to us lifeless. What lives comes into consideration, but what lives has in the first place, form. Plants have forms, animals have forms, man has a form. If clairvoyant vision is directed with all the qualities described to-day, to everything around us in nature which has form, and if we look away from all the other parts of the being and only see the forms, considering among the plants the multiplicity of the forms, as also in the animals and in man, this clairvoyant vision then perceives from the totality of the beings of the Second Hierarchy those which we call the Spirits of Form (SoF). We can, however, turn our attention to something besides the form in the beings around us in nature. We know indeed, that everything which lives changes its form, in a certain respect, as it grows. This change, this alteration of form, this metamorphosis, strikes us more particularly in the plant-world.

Now if we direct, not the ordinary vision but the clairvoyant vision of the second stage, to the growing plant-world, we see how the plant gradually gains its form, how it passes from the form of the root to the form of the leaf, to the form of the flower, to the form of the fruit. If we look at the growing animal, at the growing man, we do not merely consider a form as it exists at a given moment, we see the growth of the living being. If we allow ourselves to be stimulated by this contemplation of the growth of the living being; reflecting how the forms change, how they are in active metamorphosis — then, the clairvoyant vision of the second stage becomes aware of what we call the category of the Spirits of Motion (SoM).

It is still more difficult to consider a third category of such beings of the Second Hierarchy. For we must consider neither the form as such, nor the changes of form, nor the movement; but that which is expressed in the form. We can describe how a man may train himself to this. Of course it does not suffice to train the ordinary normal consciousness in such a way as has just been described, he must he helped by the use of the other exercises which raise man to occult vision. He must perform these; and not educate himself by means of his ordinary consciousness but by clairvoyant consciousness. This must first train itself as to how man himself becomes, in his outer form, the expression of his inner being. As we have said, that can also be done by the normal consciousness, but in that way one would attain to nothing but conjecture, a supposition of what may lie behind the bearing, gestures, and the facial expression of the human being. But when the clairvoyant vision which has already been trained to the second stage of clairvoyance, allows the physiognomy, gestures, and facial expression in man to work upon him, it produces stimulations through which he can gradually train himself to observe the beings of the third category of the Second Hierarchy. But this cannot take place — please take note of this — if he merely observes the gestures, imitative expression, and physiognomy of man; if he remains at this stage very little can really be gained. He must pass on — occult education is carried on in this most rational way in this realm — he must pass over to the plants. The animals can be left out, it is not very important to study them, but after one has trained oneself a little, clairvoyantly, to learn the inner being of his soul from a man's physiognomy and gestures; it is important to turn to the plant-world and educate oneself further by means of this.

Here someone clairvoyantly trained can have very remarkable experiences; he will feel profoundly the difference between the leaf of a plant which — let us say — runs to a point (diagram a.) and the leaf of a plant which has this form (diagram b.); between a blossom which grows upwards in this way (c.) and one which opens outwards. (d.) (See Figure 2) A whole world of difference appears in the inner experience if one directs the occult vision of the second stage to a lily or to a tulip, if one lets either a panicle of oats or a wheat or barley stalk work upon one. FIGURE

All this becomes as livingly speaking as the physiognomy of the human being. And when this speaks as livingly as the physiognomy, the gestures, of a man speaks, when we feel how the blossom which opens outwards has something of the character of a hand which turns outwards with the inner surface below and the outer surface above, and when we find another blossom which closes its petals above, like the two hands folded; it we feel the gestures, the physiognomy, and the colors of the plant-world to he something like a physiognomy, then the inner vision, the occult perception and understanding are stimulated; — and we recognize a third category of the beings of the Second Hierarchy, whom we call the Spirits of Wisdom. This name is chosen by way of comparison, because when we consider man in his mimicry, physiognomy and gestures, we see the spiritual part of him, that which is filled with wisdom, springing forth externally, manifesting itself. In this way we feel how the spiritual beings of the Second Hierarchy permeate all nature, and find expression in the physiognomy, the collective gestures, the collective mimicry of nature. Flowing Wisdom passes full of life through all beings, through all the realms of nature; and not merely a general flowing wisdom, for this flowing wisdom is differentiated into a profusion of spiritual beings, into the profusion of the Spirits of, Wisdom. When occult consciousness raises itself to these spirits, it is at first the highest stage of those spiritual beings whom we can reach in this manner; but just as we could say that the beings of the Third Hierarchy, the Angels, Archangels, and Spirits of the Age — have offspring who separate from them, so, too, the beings of the Second Hierarchy have offspring. In the course of time there are detached from the beings of the Second Hierarchy, in the same way as we were able to describe yesterday with regard to the beings of the Third Hierarchy, other beings of a lower order who are sent down into the kingdoms of nature, just as the nature-spirits by the Third Hierarchy who then become, as it were, the master-builders and foremen in miniature in the Kingdom of Nature. — Now the spiritual beings which are detached from the beings of the Second Hierarchy and which sink down into the kingdoms of nature, are those designated in occultism as the group-souls of the plants and animals, the group-souls of the individual beings. So that occult vision of the second stage finds in the beings of the plant and animal kingdoms, spiritual beings which are not, as in man, individual spirits in individual human beings; but we find groups of animals, groups of plants which are of like form, ensouled by a common spiritual being. The form of the lion and tiger and other forms are, for instance, ensouled by a common Soul-being. These we call group-souls, and these group-souls are the detached offspring of the beings of the Second Hierarchy, just as the nature-spirits are the offspring of the Third Hierarchy. Thus when we penetrate from below upwards into the higher worlds, we find, when we look at the elements, which are of importance to all the beings of the plant and animal kingdoms and to the human kingdom, that in these elements, in solid, fluidic, and gaseous matter, there rule the nature-spirits which are the offspring of the beings of the Third Hierarchy. If we ascend from the elements of earth, water, and air, to that which lives in the nature kingdoms by the aid of these elements, we find spiritual beings, group-souls, who animate and interpenetrate the beings of these nature-kingdoms, and these group-souls are spiritual beings detached from those we call the beings of the Second Hierarchy.

1917-04-12-GA175 synopsis extract

Botany and moral judgements. Goethe-Schiller meeting and the archetypal plant. Schelvers’ view on plant reproduction: a-sexual reproduction the natural process. Goethe deplores emphasis on sexual reproduction in plant kingdom. The plant kingdom and kingdom of cold-blooded animals unable to fulfil their original potentialities. Deterioration in the kingdoms of nature due to man who succumbed to the Luciferic temptation.


Goethe and botany. His perception of the “Idea” behind phenomena, of the spirit present in the plant kingdom. Approved of Schelver's belief that plant reproduction was originally a-sexual.

1922-07-22-GA213 describes the link between the form of the plants on earth, and the constellations of the fixed stars. See also Elisabeth Vreede who discusses this lecture (references below), and goes into the 'lilly and tulip' topic of the two archetype classes of blossom formation:

  • lily: calyx that opens itself (re eg constellation 'Corona Borealis' between Hercules en Bootes)
  • tulip: calyx that closes itself (re eg constellation 'Lyra' between Cygnus and Hercules)

1923-GA230, part three covers 'The Plant World and the Elemental Spirits' in three lectures:


Mystery of plant life:

  • Gnomes, which work in roots, are sense organs in which perceiving and comprehending are one. They despise human logic. Through the plant they gaze at the forces of the universe while remaining connected with the earth. The earth threatens them with the danger of becoming frogs or toads.
  • Undines or water-spirits work in leaf formation, living in the moist air. They dream the chemistry of plant life. Their fear is to become fish.
  • Sylphs live in warm air, especially in air movement caused by birds, which give them a feeling of ego. They bear cosmic love through the atmosphere, and are light-bearers, weaving archetypal plant forms out of light, which later fall down to the gnomes.
  • Salamanders or fire spirits live in light-warmth which they carry to the blossoms in the pollen, which in turn the stamens carry to the seed-bud. All this is a male process.
  • Fructification takes place in winter when seeds meet the ideal plant forms received by the gnomes. Goethe's instinctive feeling for this.
  • Fire spirits feel their I in connection with insects which actually live in their aura. Hence comes the power of butterflies to spiritualise matter. Gnomes and undines bear gravity forces of earth upwards to meet light and warmth sent down by sylphs and salamanders.


  • Late evolved creatures, corresponding to head evolution in man, lack a bone system and are spiritually completed by gnomes. Gnomes form their bodies out of gravity. The acuteness of their attention to the world. They are masked behind our dreams.
  • Undines support animals requiring a bony covering.
  • Sylphs supply the limb-system to birds.
  • Fire spirits complete butterflies in their bodily nature. The butterfly, with its fire spirit, resembles a winged man. Fire beings stand behind waking consciousness and thoughts.
  • Malicious gnomes and undines produce parasites. Malicious sylphs produce poisons, e.g. bella donna. Fire spirits and poisonous almonds.


  • For the gnomes solid earth is hollow and offers no resistance. They experience the different qualities of its substances. Their relation to the moon, and their different appearance at its phases. Their work in carrying over the hard structure from one manifestation to another. Undines and sylphs find their true life in death.
  • Undines assimilate the colours of phosphorescent water, and offer themselves to the hierarchies.
  • The sylphs carry the astrality of dying birds to the hierarchies.
  • The fire beings do the same with the gleaming of the warmth ether on the butterflies' wings. All four classes of elemental beings are astonished at man's lack of awareness in sleep. They speak to man in admonishment. Their sayings, which form part of the creative Word.

From 1923-11-02-GA230, the following key section of ethers activity

After it has passed through the sphere of the sylphs, the plant comes into the sphere of the elemental fire-spirits. These fire-spirits are the inhabitants of the warmth-light element. When the warmth of the earth is at its height, or is otherwise suitable, they gather the warmth together. Just as the sylphs gather up the light, so do the fire-spirits gather up the warmth and carry it into the blossoms of the plants. Undines carry the action of the chemical ether into the plants, sylphs the action of the light-ether into the plant's blossoms. And the pollen now provides what may be called little air-ships, to enable the fire-spirits to carry the warmth into the seed. Everywhere warmth is collected with the help of the stamens, and is carried by means of the pollen from the anthers to the seeds and the seed vessels. And what is formed here in the seed-bud is entirely the male element which comes from the cosmos. It is not a case of the seed-vessel being female and the anthers of the stamens being male. In no way does fructification occur in the blossom, but only the pre-forming of the male seed. The fructifying force is what the fire-spirits in the blossom take from the warmth of the world-all as the cosmic male seed, which is united with the female element. This element, drawn from the forming of the plant has already earlier seeped down into the ground as ideal form, and is resting there below. For plants the earth is the mother, the heavens the father. And all that takes place outside the domain of the earth is not the mother-womb for the plant. It is a colossal error to believe that the mother-principle of the plant is in the seed-bud. The fact is that this is the male-principle, which is drawn forth from the universe with the aid of the fire-spirits. The mother comes from the cambium, which spreads from the bark to the wood, and is carried down from above as ideal form. And what now results from the combined working of gnome-activity and fire-spirit activity — this is fructification. The gnomes are, in fact, the spiritual midwives of plant-reproduction. Fructification takes place below in the earth during the winter, when the seed comes into the earth and meets with the forms which the gnomes have received from the activities of the sylphs and undines and now carry to where these forms can meet with the fructifying seeds.


Study the plant kingdom, the sphere of living things. Study the plant in a real way, and we shall find that we are never able to account for the effects merely from causes which lie within the plant kingdom — in the same kingdom where the effects occur. No doubt, there is a science nowadays which tries to do so, but it is in a blind-alley! It is at last obliged to say: “We can investigate the physical and also the chemical forces and laws at work in the plant. Something is then left over ...” And at this point they diverge, so to speak, into two parties. On the one hand are those who say: “What is left over is a mere synthesis — a kind of form. The physical and chemical laws are the sole effective principle.” “No,” say the others, “there is something more, which science has not yet discovered, but it will do so no doubt in time.” — They will go on speaking like this for a long while yet. For it is not so. If you wish to make research into the plant kingdom you cannot understand it without summoning the whole universe to your aid. You must perceive that the forces for the plant-activity lie in the wide universe. All that takes place in the plant is an effect of the great universe. Before any effects can take place in plant-life, the sun must come into a certain position in the universe. And other forces too must work from the wide universe, to give the plant its form, its inner forces of growth and so on.

Now, if we were able — not in a Jules Verne — fashion, but in reality — to travel say to the moon or to the sun, there too we should not be much wiser in our quest of causes than we are on earth, if we acquired no other faculties of knowledge than those we now possess. We should not reach our goal merely by saying, “Well and good: the causes of effects occurring in the plant kingdom of the earth are not to be found in this kingdom on the earth itself. Let us therefore go to the sun; there we shall find the causes.” No, not at all, there too we shall not find them with the ordinary faculties of knowledge. We find them however when we work our way up to Imaginative Cognition — i.e. when we possess quite a new faculty of knowledge. But then we do not need to travel to the sun; we find them in the earth-domain itself. Only we have to pass from “one world” into another; from the everyday physical into the etheric, the ether-world. In the wide universal spaces on every hand, the cosmic ether with its forces is working. It works inward from the wide spaces. The ether is working in on every hand, from the wide spaces.


Thus, if we wish to find the causes of the effects in the plant in this kingdom, we must actually pass into a second realm of the universe.

Now man also partakes in what the plant partakes in. The forces working into the plants out of the ether-world, work also into man. Man carries in himself the etheric forces, and we describe the sum-total of these etheric forces which he carries within him, as the human ether-body. I have already told you how the ether-body goes on expanding for a few days after man's death, and how at last it loses itself, so that the human being remains over only in his astral body and his Ego-being.

That which man carried with him etherically, becomes ever larger and larger and loses itself in world-wide distances.

And now once more: compare what we can see of man after his passage through the gate of death, with that which we see in the plant kingdom. Of the plant kingdom we must say: its causative forces come in to the earth from the widths of space. Of the human ether-body we must say: its forces go outward into the widths of space. That is, they go whence the forces of plant-growth come — as soon as man has passed through the gate of death.

Here it already becomes clearer. When we observe only the physical corpse, though we recognise that it becomes lifeless, we do not find it easy to relate it to the rest of lifeless Nature. When on the other hand we consider the living kingdom of plants, when we become aware how the causes, the forces for the plant-kingdom come inward from the ether of cosmic space, then — as we enter with spiritual imagination into the human being — we perceive that with man's passage through the gate of death the human ether-body goes thither, whence come the forces, the ether-forces, for the plant kingdom.

Now there is another characteristic. The causative forces that affect the plants, work comparatively quickly. The day before yesterday's sun has little influence upon the plant as it springs from the soil or receives blossom and fruit. The day before yesterday's sun can have little effect today with all its causes. To take effect today, it must shine today. This point is important; mark it well. You will presently see how important it is.

The plants with their etheric causes have, it is true, their actual fundamental forces within the earthly realm, but they have them in the universe simultaneously with the earth.

And when man as a soul-and-spirit being has passed through the gate of death, when the human ether-body dissolves, this again lasts but a short time — only a few days. Here again you have simultaneity. For the duration of the world-process, the few days are a mere trifle. Thus, when the human ether-body returns to where the forces for plant growth — the ether-forces — come from we, can say: As soon as man is living in the ether, his etheric activity is not restricted to the earth (for on the contrary, it leaves the earth), nevertheless, it develops simultaneously. Hence I may write you this scheme:

  • Mineral Kingdom; Simultaneity of causes and effects within the physical.

Yes, you will say, but surely the causes of some things that take place in the physical are antecedent in time. No, it is not so in reality. For any effects to arise in the physical, the causes must continue working. As soon as the causes cease working, no more effects will occur.

And when we come into the plant kingdom (and the same will apply to the plant-nature which we can trace in man himself), there we have simultaneity in the physical and in the superphysical, so we may write:

  • Plant Kingdom; Simultaneity of causes in the physical and superphysical.


Related pages

References for further study

  • Elisabeth Vreede - Astronomy and spiritual science - Year 3 Letter 5: The world of the stars IV: Plants and stars
  • Gerbert Grohmann (1897-1957)
    • 'The Plant: Guide to Understanding Its Nature' v. 1
  • Frits-Hendrik Julius (1902-1970)
    • 'Bomen en Planeten' (1971 in NL), in DE as 'Bäume und Planeten: Beitrag zu einer kosmologischen Botanik' (2004)
  • Lawrence Edwards (1912-2004)
  • Dick Van Romunde (1916-2010)
  • Jochen Bockemuhl (1928)
  • Ernst-Michael Kranich (1929-2007)
    • 'Planetary Influences upon Plants: Cosmological Botany' (1986), also in DE as 'Pflanze und Kosmos. Grundlinien einer kosmologischen Botanik' (1976, 1997)
    • 'Pflanzen als Bilder der Seelenwelt. Skizze einer physiognomischen Naturerkenntnis' (1993)
    • 'Urpflanze und Pflanzenreich. Metarmorphosen von den Flechten bis zu den Blütenpflanzen' (2007)
  • Andreas Suchantke (1933)
  • Werner Schüpbach
    • Pflanzengeometrie : Die geometrische Organisation der höheren Pflanzen und deren Beziehung zum Planetensystem (1944)