The Imagination of Plants

A Book of Botanical Mythology

By Matthew Hall

Subjects: Environment And Religion, Environmental Philosophy, Myth, Comparative Religion, Religion
Series: SUNY series on Religion and the Environment
Hardcover : 9781438474373, 330 pages, July 2019
Paperback : 9781438474380, 330 pages, January 2020

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Table of contents

List of Illustrations

Introduction: A Botanical Mythology

1. Roots

2. Gods

3. Metamorphosis

4. Legend

5. Sentience

6. Violence

Epilogue: Imagination and Beyond

A Guide to the Texts

Examines the role of plants in botanical mythology, from Aboriginal Australia to Zoroastrian Persia.


Plants have a remarkable mythology dating back thousands of years. From the ancient Greeks to contemporary Indigenous cultures, human beings have told colorful and enriching stories that have presented plants as sensitive, communicative, and intelligent. This book explores the myriad of plant tales from around the world and the groundbreaking ideas that underpin them. Amid the key themes of sentience and kinship, it connects the anemone to the meaning of human life, tree hugging to the sacred basil of India, and plant intelligence with the Finnish epic The Kalevala. Bringing together commentary, original source material, and colorful illustrations, Matthew Hall challenges our perspective on these myths, the plants they feature, and the human beings that narrate them.

Matthew Hall is Associate Director of Research Services at Victoria University of Wellington, in New Zealand. He is the author of Plants as Persons: A Philosophical Botany, also published by SUNY Press.


"The Imagination of Plants may be useful to scholars as a one-stop reference on the themes Hall highlights in various cultures' sacred myths and epic tales … The Imagination of Plants can perhaps open a portal for students and naturally curious readers that points toward more capacious perceptions of plants-as-kin that exist and continue to thrive among many cultures. As Hall underscores, the human-as-heroic-conqueror trope is a single way to tell a story—one with potentially deadly consequences." — Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture

"As a compendium of botanical mythology, this book is a delightful experience to read. But it's not just a collectanea of myths. Hall clearly has an agenda. His methodology is inductive, and he draws upon the world's rich botanical mythology to support his thesis. What is really refreshing, however, is how Hall challenges the traditional view of plants as passive recipients of our gaze by encouraging us to see the continuities between plants and animal bodies. Hall seeks to bring plants (and nature) within the moral sphere and, a fortiori, invites us to use our imagination to convert these ideas into action. The Imagination of Plants is highly original in both its scope and the way it has been organized." — The Trumpeter

"Matthew Hall's The Imagination of Plants offers a generously illustrated treasure trove of plant mythology selected from across world from ancient times to the present … The roots of the myths represented in The Imagination of Plants are deep, and Hall's work as a collector and curator, teasing themes of nature and history from this tangled bank, are generous and thought-provoking." — The Pomegranate

"…this is an impressive, thoroughly documented scholarly work that may be valuable to those involved in investigating social and cultural aspects of botany, as well as comparative religion, environmental philosophy, environmental studies, myth, and religion." — Plant Science Bulletin

"…an excellent and interesting volume on plants in myths from around the world … the book would be of most use to those interested in mythology or more specifically the mythology of plants, but to botanists and ethnobotanists alike [it] could easily serve as enjoyable hobby reading." — Economic Botany

"With helpful illustrations expressing wonder for the natural world, and showing appreciation for the thought and work of Val Plumwood, this book will be useful in courses that deal with the reanimation of nature." — CHOICE

"Whether or not we believe that any plant actually has an imagination, the rhetorical flourish in Matthew Hall's title sends us into his book with a serious interest in what he has to say. This is a valuable addition to our knowledge about mythic tale-telling and awareness of those elements of the animate world that science, since the Renaissance, has always placed on the lowest scale of value. Hall wants to redress this imbalance, and he does so by revealing just how essential (to Indigenous cultures) the plant kingdom was to humanity's place in the universe." — Ashton Nichols, author of Beyond Romantic Ecocriticism: Toward Urbanatural Roosting