The Secret Life of Plants

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The Secret Life of Plants
The Secret Life of Plants cover
AuthorPeter Tompkins, Christopher Bird
PublisherHarper & Row
Publication date

The Secret Life of Plants (1973) is a book by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird. The book documents controversial experiments that claim to reveal unusual phenomena associated with plants, such as plant sentience and the ability of plants to communicate with other creatures, including humans. The book goes on to discuss philosophies and progressive farming methods based on these findings. It was heavily criticized by scientists for promoting pseudoscientific claims.[1][2] Later editions were published with the subtitle A Fascinating Account of the Physical, Emotional and Spiritual Relations Between Plants and Man.


Christopher Bird was a best-selling author who also wrote The Divining Hand: The 500-Year-Old Mystery of Dowsing.[3] Peter Tompkins worked as a journalist, as well as a US military intelligence officer for the OSS in Italy during World War II.[4]

The original book cover design was created by underground comix illustrator Gail Burwen.[5]


The book includes summaries of the life and work of 20th century scientists Jagadish Chandra Bose and Corentin Louis Kervran as well as 19th century scientist George Washington Carver.

The book includes experiments on plant stimuli using a polygraph, a method which was pioneered by Cleve Backster.[6][7] Parts of the book attempt to disparage science, particularly plant biology, for example by claiming science is not concerned with "what makes plants live", in order to promote its own viewpoint that plants have emotions. The authors further say the authorities are unable to accept that emotional plants "might originate in a supramaterial world of cosmic beings which, as fairies, elves, gnomes, sylphs, and a host of other creatures, were a matter of direct vision and experience to clairvoyants among the Celts and other sensitives."[6]


The book has been criticized by botanists such as Arthur Galston for endorsing pseudoscientific claims.[8] According to Galston and physiologist Clifford L. Slayman many of the claims in the book are false or unsupported by independent verification and replicable studies.[9]

Botanist Leslie Audus noted that the book is filled with nonsensical "outrageous" claims and should be regarded as fiction.[1]


The book was the basis for the 1979 documentary film of the same name,[10] directed by Walon Green and featuring a soundtrack by Stevie Wonder, later released as Journey through the Secret Life of Plants. The film made use of time-lapse photography (where plants are seen growing in a few seconds, creepers reach out to other plants and tug on them, mushrooms and flowers open).[11] The film was originally distributed by Paramount Pictures.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Audus, Leslie. (1974). Roots of Absurdity. New Scientist. 17 October. p. 207
  2. ^ Galston, Arthur. (1974). The Unscientific Method. Natural History 83: 18-24.
  3. ^ "Christopher Bird, 68, a Best-Selling Author - New York Times". The New York Times. 1996-05-06. Retrieved 2011-10-24.
  4. ^ Richard Harris Smith (1972). OSS: The Secret History of America's First Central Intelligence Agency. University of California Press. pp. 86–87. ISBN 978-0-520-02023-8.
  5. ^ "Remembering the life of Gail Burwen 1945 - 2017". The Salem News. 2017-06-19. Retrieved 2022-10-16.
  6. ^ a b Abelson, P. H. (21 June 1974). "Pseudoscience". Science. 184 (4143): 1233. Bibcode:1974Sci...184.1233A. doi:10.1126/science.184.4143.1233. PMID 17784213.
  7. ^ Randi, James (1998). "Chapter 13. Science and Pseudoscience". In Terzian, Yervant (ed.). Carl Sagan's universe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-57286-6.
  8. ^ Galston, Arthur W. (1974). Commentary: The Unscientific Method. By Ignoring Accepted Rules of Evidence, the Authors of a Popularized Book on Plants Reach Many False Conclusions. BioScience 24 (7): 415-416.
  9. ^ Galston, Arthur W; Slayman, Clifford L. (1979). The Not-so-secret Life of Plants: In Which the Historical and Experimental Myths About Emotional Communication Between Animal and Vegetable Are Put to Rest. American Scientist 67 (3): 337-344.
  10. ^ The Secret Life of Plants video on YouTube
  11. ^ The Secret Life of Plants at IMDb Edit this at Wikidata

Further reading[edit]