Artist 'Domesticates' Plant Roots Into Intricate Geometric Forms

Video screen capture. Diana Scherer/ Radboud University via Youtube

Our perception of plants probably paints them as passive, slow-growing green things that aren't particularly intelligent -- at least, not like us, humans. But recent research is showing how arrogantly anthropocentric that view may be, revealing that plants do indeed sense, learn, remember and react much like how a human might.

Scientists aren't the only ones having fun with this new research into what is now informally being called plant neurobiology (though this is a bit of a misnomer, as plants do not have neurons per se). In a series of grown artworks called Interwoven, Amsterdam-based German artist Diana Scherer explores how the sensitive roots of plants -- sometimes likened to the 'brains' of a plant -- can be molded and shaped into intricate, man-made forms.

Done in collaboration with biologists and ecologists from the Radboud University in Nijmegen, Netherlands, Scherer's work was inspired by Charles Darwin's investigations into plant behaviour, as she explains:

Charles Darwin was the first to watch the behavior of the plant roots. In his book The Power of Movements of Plants, he describes how roots do not passively grow down, but move and observe. A root navigates, knows what’s up and down, observes gravity and localizes moisture and chemicals. Darwin discovered that plants are a lot more intelligent than everybody thought. For contemporary botanists, this buried matter is still a wondrous land. There is a global investigation to discover this hidden world. I also want to explore it and apply the ‘intelligence’ of plants in my work.

The filament-like roots are cultivated in soil around custom-made, subterranean molds, and are unearthed sometime later to reveal a thick, ordered mesh that almost feels like a textile. Zooming in, one can see how these organic elements weave and interlace themselves to create more complex forms.

Fittingly, Scherer calls the project an "exercise in root-system domestication", combining new scientific ideas about plant intelligence with an artistic flair. Through the lens of these ordered patterns, we get a fascinating glimpse of the mysterious generative forces that drive plants to do what they do. To see more, visit Diana Scherer.