Plants from a Biodynamic Perspective

Unit Overview - Learners will develop an understanding of plant taxonomy, the morphology and physiology of plants; they will also learn how to apply those insights in horticultural and agricultural plant production activities.  The learner will be introduced to spiritual aspects of plant development from a biodynamic perspective and learn to use the method of Goethean plant observation to appreciate a holistic understanding of the plant.


1.1 Describe the function of internal and external characteristics of plant structures


Describe briefly  the function of the external and internal characteristics of plant structures including root, stem, buds, leaves, flower, fruit and seed.

Illustrate with labelled diagrams. (Not more than 1000 words)


Illustration of the key features of a plant




Roots.  The function of the root is to hold the plant in the soil.  They also enable the uptake of water and nutrients into the plant. Roots also enable the storage of food and nutrients.


There are tiny hairs on the roots, shown in the diagram below. It is through these root hairs that the absorption of water and minerals in solution takes place.  It has also been found that root hairs form mycorrhizal relationships with soil fungi. The water and nutrients which first enter the plant through the root hairs travel via the xylem to the shoots and leaves of the plant.  After photosynthesis has occurred in the leaves the sugars produced in this process pass down through the primary phloem to feed both the root and the organisms which are in symbiotic relationship with the root underground.  It has been found that the bacteria and fungi which work in union with the root gain beneficial nutrients through this process. 'Plants can benefit greatly from such relationships, sourcing vital nutrients with the help of a partner'


The central portion of the root in angiosperms contains the vascular cambium which allows the plant to grow larger over time to supply the growing plant.


Stems.  The function of the stem is to support the leaves, the flowers and the fruits.  The design of the stem enables bending and some resistance to wind.  The stems are able to transport water and minerals to the leaves and sugars to the roots, flowers and fruits.




Leaves are the 'food factory' of the plant.  They are where photosynthesis occurs.  Sugars are made in the leaves from water and carbon dioxide using sunlight energy that has been absorbed by chlorophyll. Leaves are flattened and designed to gather maximum energy from sunlight.  On the underside of the leaf there are stomata.  These are openings that allow gases to enter and leave the plant.  The cells of a leaf are contained within two layers called cuticles.


Flowers are reproductive structures.  They take many forms and are designed to attract insects in order to disperse pollen.  For this reason flowers have evolved to be bright and colourful.  In contrast, flowers which are designed to wind pollinate are usually small and insignificant.  The flower is composed of four parts.  Each part contains one of the flower organs.







There is also an ovary in each flower.  In angiosperms this ovary develops into a fruit after fertilization.



The seed surrounds the plant embryo and prevents it from drying out.  Each seed contains an embryo, food source, and outer coating designed to protect it.  Seeds can be dormant for long periods, waiting for the correct environmental conditions to prevail before springing into life.


1.2 Describe the function of certain basic  processes in plant development


Describe the function of  the following basic physiological processes in plants including labelled diagrams:


- photosynthesis

- cell division and differentiation

- respiration

- water and nutrient transport




Photosynthesis is the special ability of plants to produce simple sugars from the ingredients of water and carbon dioxide.  Energy from sunlight is key to this chemical reaction.  When the chemical reaction takes place, the end result is sugar (in the form of glucose) and oxygen (which is released into the atmosphere.  Therefore the essential air that animals and humans breathe is completely dependent on the oxygen 'byproduct' of photosynthesis.  'It is a remarkable biochemical reaction and of such fundamental importance that, were photosynthesis to stop happening, virtually all life on Earth would die'


The process of photosynthesis takes place in the leaves of the plant.  However the ingredients for the chemical reaction are drawn from different areas of the plant.  For example, water is taken in from the soil by the root hairs, where it flows up the roots and stem to the leaves via the primary xylem.  Carbon dioxide is absorbed through the stomata on the underside of the leaf. Light comes from the sun onto the surface of the leaf.  The overall design of the plant is such that the surface area of the leaves are maximised for the absorption of light, both in their flat and wide individual forms and in the arrangement of their totality.  For example, many are positioned in spirals around the stem, which avoids each leaf covering the one below.


Within the leaf itself it is the choloroplasts that drive the chemical reaction.  Choloroplasts are the pigment cells that give foliage its green appearance.  We can often spot problems with plants when the leaves exhibit yellowing or browning.  Clearly if the leaves are dying then the essential processes of photosynthesis are not occurring and the 'food factory' is shutting down.  Therefore the plant's growth will be limited or it will die.  Choloroplasts 'receive and convert light energy'


The chemical reaction that takes place in the leaves of the plant can be expressed as follows:


6CO2 + 6 H2O = C6H12O6 + 6 O2


By way of explanation 'six molecules of carbon dioxide (found in the air) are combined with 6 molecules of water (taken up by the roots) to produce one molecule of simple sugar (glucose) plus six molecules of oxygen.'


Cell division and differentiation


Cell division is absolutely critical to the evolution of life on Earth.



Respiration is a parallel process to photosynthsis.  Like photosynthesis


Water and nutrient transport


How are water and nutrients transported around the plant to the areas of need? Or more simply how do water and nutrients get from the ground up the highest branches of a tall tree?  The system that enables the transport of water around a plant is called a vascular system.  The two key aspects of the vascular system are the xylem and the phloem.  The xylem enables one way flow - from the bottom of the plant to the top.  Through the xylem, water is transported from the ground via the root hairs up the roots and stems to the leaves where photosynthesis occurs.  Once the chemical reactions of photosynthesis have occurred, the sugars produced in the process are transported via the phloem to the parts of the plant where they are needed.  The flow direction in the phloem can travel both up and down the plant.  The process by which this occurs is still not understood.


1.3 Discuss how certain external conditions and interventions may influence plant processes


Discuss different ways how the rate of photosynthesis can be influenced.


Light intensity can affect photosynthesis. With weak light a plant cannot photosynthesize very quickly.  Another limiting factor can be concentration of carbon dioxide in the air. Even if there is plenty of light a plant cannot photosynthesize without carbon dioxide. Temperature can affect the rate of photosynthesis, if the temperature is too hot or too cold.  These factors can be problematic, for example in a polytunnel, where sufficient airing is required to ensure the correct levels of CO2.  Similarly the spacing of plants is important for reception of light. Temperature can also be be a problem in polytunnels so this needs careful consideration.


Factors that influence respiration in plants:


The factors that influence the respiration of plants are:

Temperature: respiration decreases when temperature decreases.  Respiration increases with increasing temperatures until very high temperatures are reached. This will result in tissue deterioration);

Oxygen (Respiration decreases with decreased available oxygen);

Carbon Dioxide (the higher the concentration of carbon dioxide, the lower the rate of respiration), Water (Dry tissue has a lower respiration rate than hydrated tissue).


If growing in a  polytunnel is critical to balance the presence of carbon dioxide and oxygen, but at the same time we must always be careful when the temperature changes.


The daily control of watering (soil hydration) greatly influences respiration and plant life.


The respiration rates of fruits can be controlled by storing fruit in cool, dry places. Lower storage temperatures are able to slow the respiration and ripening of fruit, but at the same time the refrigeration increases the evaporation of the water, damaging the foodstuffs, this is the reason why they must always be kept hydrated.


Discuss basic methods and effects of pruning of 2 types of soft and 1 type of top fruit.   Demonstrate pruning of  soft and top fruit plant on the holding.


Discuss the effects on plant development when growing horticultural crops under protection(include fleece, enviromesh, tunnels and glasshouses) as opposed of growing them in the open field. Include the aspects of  light, air, temperature and water.


4 different ways of natural and artificial vegetative plant propagation.


Vegetative propagation methods have the advantage that the new plants contain the genetic material of only one parent, so they are clones of the parent plant. This means that, once you have a plant with desirable traits, you can reproduce the same traits indefinitely, as long as the growing conditions remain similar.


With vegetative propagation, bypass the immature seedling phase and therefore reach the mature phase sooner. This can save a lot of time and money for commercial plant production. The main disadvantage is the potential to impact on biodiversity of a species. Also, if a particular plant clone is susceptible to certain diseases, there is potential to lose entire crops.


Natural Plant Propagation


Bulbs: such as daffodils, form lateral buds from the base of the mother bulb, which produce new smaller bulbs or bulbils.


Rhizomes: are root-like stems that grow horizontally under the ground. New roots and shoots form at the nodes with shoots growing upwards to form new plantlets. Lateral buds grow out to form new rhizomes. Examples include iris and root ginger.


Stolons or runners: are horizontal stems that grow above the ground, for example, strawberries. Tiny plantlets form along the stolon, and roots form where they touch the ground. When the connection with the parent plant breaks, the new plant becomes independent.


Tubers: are swollen portions of an underground stem that store food so a plant can lie dormantover the winter, for example, potatoes. Axillary buds, commonly known as ‘eyes’, form over the surface of the tuber and produce shoots that grow into a new plant the following year.


Artificial Methods of Plant Propagation


Cutting:  A piece that has been cut off a mother plant and then caused to grow into a whole plant. Often this involves a piece of stem that is treated with hormones to encourage new roots to form before planting.


Grafting:  This method involves joining a stem piece (as in grafting) or a single bud (as in budding) onto the stem of a plant that has roots. The stem piece or bud is called the scion, and the plant with roots is called the rootstock. Grafting is commonly used to produce fruit trees sometimes with more than one variety of the same fruit species growing from the same stem.


Tissue Culture: Using tissue culture, sometimes called micropropagation, tiny fragments of plants are treated with plant hormones in a sterile growing medium. The hormones stimulate the growth of a callus, from which a new seedling can grow. This method is used to produce large numbers of identical seedlings.


Discuss environmental  effects relating to form and substance on plants, including clay and sandy soils, light and darkness, excess manuring and seasonal aspects .


Clay soils are heavy to work.  The warm up slowly and therefore can delay plant development.  Sandy soils can lose water quickly and leave plants without sufficient hydration.


Insufficient light can cause etiolation, long thin stems, a pale colour and pale leaves.  Too much light is not in itself a problem, but the heat that excessive light produces can be a problem.


Excessive manuring can lead a plant to put too much energy into leaves and not enough into fruits. This can happen in all plants and it pays to ensure that there is not too much manure on a bed to prevent these problems.


Discuss how a grower/farmer is able to influence the working of cosmic and terrestrial forces as formulated by R. Steiner.  Include biodynamic measures.


The biodynamic preparations bring energy forces onto the farm, thus into the produce and into the animals and people who consume the produce. Preparations are created from minerals, plants and animal matter and are applied to the farm in various doses. For the sake of simplicity, these are the nine preparations:


• 500 Horn manure: applied to the soil

• 501 Powdered quartz: applied to the young leaves

• 502 Yarrow: applied to mainly biodynamic compost piles

• 503 Chamomile: applied to mainly biodynamic compost piles

• 504 Stinging nettle: applied to mainly biodynamic compost piles

• 505 Oak bark: applied to mainly biodynamic compost piles

• 506 Dandelion: applied to mainly biodynamic compost piles

• 507 Valerian: applied to mainly biodynamic compost piles

• 508 Horsetail herb: applied to the soil to prevent fungus


A grower is able to influence the working of cosmic and terrestrial forces by using the biodynamic preparation 500 and 501.


The 500 Preparation, stimulates and harmonizes the processes of humus formation in the soil. The starting elements are made of very fresh manure without and cow horns that have given birth at least once. These elements are subjected to natural processes long a winter season. Towards the end of September-end of October the fresh manure is put inside the horns; these are then buried in a suitable place. Around the Easter period they are unearthed. The manure placed inside the horns is completely transformed into an odorless, dark, colloidal humus: the example of pure humus. All the preparation deriving from the collection of the horns in spring is stored in containers. Once the right conservation environment is created, we can proceed when it is necessary to distribute the preparation on agricultural land. Its distribution takes place after having carried out the fundamental operation of mixing and dynamization with lukewarm water from the source, well or rain. This operation lasts about an hour and can be carried out either manually or through special machines. The amount of preparation used for one hectare of land is not much: it ranges from 100 grams to 300.


Through the preparation 501, the silica-based light forces are concentrated and strengthened. stimulating all that light causes in plant physiology and therefore in different ways depending on the phenological phase of the plant. It is used to improve everything that has to do with the nutritional qualities of agricultural products. It is important to regulate any lack of light. To counteract the excesses of moisture forces that lead to pests and decomposition. In the regeneration of seeds strengthens the nutritional pole, that of the quality of the fruits and of the parts that affect human and animal consumption. The quality of the hay becomes  better. The 501 is prepared by crushing, grinding and sifting white quartz crystals with mortar, after being sieved and then the fine powder that is obtained is moistened to make a mash and inserted in cow horns and placed underground, from April until 'Autumn. After having unearthed the horns, the white silica powder is removed and kept in the light ready for use. When needed, it is mixed with water at room temperature, dynamized for about an hour and distributed finely sprayed on the plants. When the intention is to enhance growth and fruiting must be sprinkled early in the morning; when the plants are wilting and must develop excellent storage capacity, the ideal time is late afternoon.


1.4 Describe spiritual aspects of plant development


Identify and describe at least 2 characteristics of the classic 4 elements(earth, water, air and warmth)


The four elements are earth, water, air, fire


The earth is the soil and the minerals that plants need for survival.  This is further discussed in the soil unit


Water is fundamental to the plant. Hydration is simply a fundamental


Air is fundamental to photosynthesis in terms of oxygen and carbon dioxide


Fire can be seen as important in bringing plants to maturity


Identify and describe at least 2 characteristics of each of  the 4 ethers (as formulated by R.Steiner)


The four ethers are warmth, light, tone, life


This ether brings things to maturity


Has a quality of wisdom that is creative


Arranges matter into ordered and harmonious relationships


Embodies the essence of something - its wholeness - living meaning


Identify , describe and reflect on  the role of the 4 elemental beings in plant growth( as formulated by R. Steiner)



Work amongst the roots.  They perceive cosmic ideas for plant forms


Shape and form the plant out of light


They bind and disperse substances of the air. They are world-chemists with the mysterious combining and separation of substances, which emanate from the leaf, and carry chemical-ether to the plant.


The salamanders dwelling in the warmth-light element. When earth is warmest, they gather the warmth together and carry it to the blossoms.


Reference:    Kathryn Casternovia


2.1 Apply Goethean observation methods to plant study


In my Goethean study I chose the Oak tree.  This is a tree that I have studied in depth. I familiarised myself with the plant in various stages of development - from the acorn to the fully grown tree.  I had also recently been devising an ink making method from Oak Galls, so I had thoroughly researched the tree and its remarkable contribution to human development in many forms, for example, Oak Gall ink, its permanence being a key factor in producing the historical record, such as Magna Carta, Shakespeare's folios, and the musical notation of most of the classical music we know.  In short I had immersed myself in the tree and its timber.  Furthermore I had been making oak furniture for the colleges, so I had an intimate understanding of the qualities of this timber - and knew well the weight, workability, strength, grain, colour and figuring.


Studies and photographs for Oak bench carving.






2.2 Reflect on your experience of the plant using the Goethean process


-Describe and illustrate Goethe’s concept of metamorphosis as a way of understanding the plant. Include the concept of the archetypal plant


For Goethe in Nature metamorphosis means transformation, or rather a series of transformations in which a perennial essence manifests itself through a different external mode: the form, which is concretized biologically in the archetype, that is not a static reality, but a shaping activity, which only the expert eye is able to lead back to Unity, through the chain of Being. Therefore no physically identifiable common ancestor can exist in this perspective: for Goethe the process enters into timelessness, for evolutionists instead it enters in history.

Identify and describe the 4 formative movements in plant growth-leaf sequence

Many plants have leaves that are all slightly different. If you remove the leaves of one plant and compare them, a pattern of change emerges, which is similar for all plants.


Leaf metamorphosis in poppy (from Bockemühl, 1990)

a. leaves arranged in random order

b. leaves arranged in logical order

c. leaves as they were arranged on the plant

This leaf series shows that during the growth stage, the leaves elongate and at the same time expand in all directions. The leaf mass spreads outward. This is followed by the segmentation stage: the leaf becomes ever more deeply incised, in a process that starts from the outer margin. Acute shapes appear while round shapes disappear. In the next stage, the process is reversed: the leaves become smaller again and the leaf mass withdraws into the stalk. This is the contraction stage, in which the leaf base becomes wider and more acute. This is called narrowing. We thus see a process involving four movements: elongation, expansion, segmentation and narrowing.

The plant produces a series of different leaf shapes. Although you don't see the transitions between the leaf shapes, you can create a mental picture of them and thus re-create the continuous process of leaf metamorphosis.

If you look at the movement represented by an individual leaf, however, you can see the reverse process, starting with narrowing, then segmentation, then expansion and finally elongation.


Leaf development in nipplewort (from Bockemühl, 1980)

In the figure of the leaves of the nipplewort two opposite movements are combined. The outer circle shows the fully grown leaves, while the inner circle shows immature leaves. The arrows running left and right from the centre indicate the growth movement of the leaves. The bottom left part of the outer circle shows the first leaf to be formed, followed by the next leaves. The final leaf that is formed, just before flowering starts, is shown in the bottom right part of the outer circle. The thinner straight lines connect corresponding stages of fully grown and immature leaves, which do not represent the same leaf.

There is not only a metamorphosis in the leaves themselves, but also one from leaves to sepals, petals and anthers.



-Identify and describe  the 4 formative movements in plant growth-leafsequence-

-Identify and illustrate the dynamics of contraction and expansion in plant growth-from seed to seed

-Observe and illustrate the development of a  plant in a Goethean way over the growing season from seed to seed. Include seed to first leaf development. Illustrate with drawings

-Describe and reflect on Goethe's methodology of observation .


3 Be able to engage the RMT student to care for plants


Through my continual work with students in the garden I have been able to demonstrate that I can engage students in the care of plants.  There are numerous examples of this throughout the 'Projects' section of this website.  Of utmost importance has been the development of various thematic gardens at Eyam Edge Farm.  By this I refer predominantly to:


The Sensory Garden (2017)

Through the design and implementation of this garden, with the great assistance of Pieter Van Vilet from High Riggs, students have been able to get involved in the growing of plants that appeal to the senses.  Herbs and flowers have helped students relax at times and be stimulated at others.


The Natural Dye Garden (2018)

One of the most successful aspects of the site.  Students have been hugely engaged by the growing of dye plants and the processes involved in producing natural colours.  This has involved growing plants from seeds and sets and transplanting plants grown elsewhere.  It has also included planting hedging which is now providing protection from the prevailing winds - this is a factor in all aspects of the design of gardens at Eyam Edge Farm.


The Horticulture Area (2019)

A huge undertaking for staff and students.  The creation of many raised bed areas so we can produce enough vegetables to provide for the kitchens of Brantwood Specialist School.



In these key spaces students were involved from the start.  By design, choice of plants and layout, students were involved and enthusiastic.  They planted hedging trees, planted bulbs, planted out things they had grown from seed and more.  They helped in the construction of raised beds, assisted in the filling of these with appropriate soil and wheelbarrowed compost that they had been involved in making to the beds.  Through these processes students became engaged in the life processes of the site and the development of the gardens.  They also felt a degree of ownership of the spaces and therefore cared for them more wholeheartedly.  It has been fascinating to watch the way they have personally 'grown' through this process.  This is an embodiment of the principle 'growing land, growing people.


4 Be able to identify and comment on the therapeutic benefits of engaging students in working directly with plants


Therapeutic gardening is the cultivation of plants to promote a healing environment, receive mental and physical health benefits, and increased well-being.


Gardening has a huge range of different purposes, ranging from giving access to fresh fruits and vegetables - leading to health benefits - providing an attractive habitat for beneficial wildlife - and increased ecosystem diversity, to creating a peaceful and beautiful sanctuary.


Whatever the primary purpose for gardening is increasing endurance and decreasing stress and anxiety. With therapeutic gardening, the primary intent is to increased well-being, achieved through the active and passive participation in the garden. The gardens are a plant-dominated environment purposefully designed to facilitate interaction with the healing elements of nature.


Physical Benefits

It is well understood that there are numerous physical benefits to working with plants.  These can include reduced pain, better strength and stamina, improved immune response

Psychological Benefits

Reduced stress and anxiety; Increased self-esteem; Decreased social isolation; Increased social engagement and participation; Sense of pride in work; Improved overall sense of well-being; Increased overall mood; Decreased feelings of depression; Increased coping.

Cognitive Benefits

Improved concentration; Memory activation; Increased attention span.

Other therapeutic benefits

Gardening is calming, memory stimulation and stress management, creates friendships, core strength, flexibility and balance, decreased agitation and anxiety, participation in an activity that engages the senses, increased relaxation and restoration from mental and emotional fatigue , enhanced mood, improved concentration, increase cooperation, focus placed on skills and aspirations, increase responsibility, increase problem solving, increase independence, increase better self healing and nourishment.



The reading list for this website is here

1. p56 Botany for Gardeners RHS












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