Impressions of the exhibition

© Aline Klieber

In May 2022 our exhibition was shown in the Orangery of the Botanical Garden in Münster. For those who missed the exhibition, you will find photos and further information about the texts and films we showed. For legal reasons, we cannot quote the original literary and filmic works, but below you will find the contexts we have compiled for the respective sources.

You can also find the booklet accompanying the exhibition here.


What role do plants play in science fiction? That is the central question of our exhibition. For about one and a half years, we, a team of doctoral and master’s students from literary studies at the University of Münster, looked into this question. The answers are multifaceted: plants can be decorative backgrounds, deadly killers, or intelligent partners. But all of the texts and films exhibited here have one thing in common: they address pressing issues of our time. These include the climate crisis as well as the extinction of species or the scarcity of resources. In the realm of possibilities offered by the genre of science fiction, they rethink current findings from botany, develop new strategies for dealing with other living beings, or conjure up end-time scenarios. In an impressive way, science and fiction come together in the texts and films. For the exhibition, we have compiled the works and their scientific contexts and divided them into three sections:

  • In Paradise
  • Out of Control
  • Cooperative Creation

In Paradise


© Aline Klieber
  • © Aline Klieber
  • © Aline Klieber
  • © Aline Klieber
  • © Aline Klieber

Decoration, remedy, food source – these are three essential functions of plants in Western culture. Mostly humans perceive plants as passive and immobile, they are decorative background. In terms of cultural history, this can be traced back to the biblical motif of the Garden of Eden. The garden is often a place of hope, security, or pleasure. In these gardens, the individual plants recede into the background and disappear into the scenery.

This is also the case in two works presented here: in Margaret Atwood’s Year of the Flood (2017), the plants are primarily a source of food on a destroyed planet; in the film Silent Running (1972), they are museum objects under huge glass domes, drifting through space on gigantic spaceships. In the radio play Im erwachten Garten (2008), on the other hand, the plants are integrated into a paradisiacal coexistence. Although the title alludes to the Garden of Eden, the radio play breaks with traditional points of reference.

  • Margaret Atwood (*1939 in Kanada): The Year of the Flood // Das Jahr der Flut (2009)


    In the dystopian novel The Year of the Flood, people struggle to survive after a plague. Some of them live together in a radical ecological group called the ‘Gardeners’ and create paradisiacal gardens on rooftops. The gardens provide the sect with poison-free food and a space protected from the outside world. In the so-called ‘Exfernal World’, intoxication and violence reign and there is no vegetation left.

    The plants in The Year of the Flood are depicted according to common notions. The gardens on the roofs serve people primarily as a source of food. At the same time, they are linked to paradisiacal ideals and hope for a better future. In the Exfernal World, the absence of plants suggests a moral decay. This division of the world into paradise and hell is also evident in the cityscape: while the gardens thrive high on the rooftops, the rest of the people decay in the streets. In the form of the villain Blanco, the outside world invades paradise and forces the heroine Toby to flee.

  • Douglas Trumbull (1942–2022 in den USA): Silent Running // Lautlos im Weltraum (1972)

    Collect and Preserve

    In the film Silent Running, Earth’s last gardens drift through space on a fleet of spaceships. On one of them, the protagonist Freeman Lowell works with his crew. The huge gardens under glass domes preserve the last piece of ‘nature’ after it has been destroyed on Earth. As places of refuge and retreat, they are reminiscent of the Garden of Eden. This connection is established right from the beginning of the film: Lowell bathes in an artificial lake, naked like the biblical Adam.

    The plants in Silent Running are only decoration and passive background. They have no agency of their own, and serve as a backdrop. As museum objects, there is no place for them in the actual world. Consequently, in the course of the film, the crew receives orders to destroy the domes. Lowell prevents this by murdering his colleagues before they can blow up the last dome. Nevertheless, he is not interested in the plants afterwards – he prefers the company of two robots that are on board.

  • Dietmar Dath (*1970 in Deutschland) & Kammerflimmer Kollektief (Heike Aumüller *1969, Johannes Frisch *1958, Thomas Weber *1969 in Deutschland): Im erwachten Garten (2008)

    Dissolving Boundaries

    The radio play Im erwachten Garten varies the motif of the Garden of Eden. Humanity has evolved so much through technological progress that the boundaries between species have been erased: The characters in the radio play are hybrid beings of human, animal, and machine who can change their exterior and interior appearance. The relationships that the characters enter into with each other are also unbounded and transformative. They live together polyamorously and polygamously. Part of this joyful togetherness are the plants, which here are not passive and isolated, but integrated into the community. They exchange ideas with the other characters - or make fun of them. In this station a non-hybridized person retrospectively tells of hearing the plants speak for the first time.

    Im erwachten Garten shows that ‘nature’ and culture interpenetrate and cannot be separated. According to nature and culture scholar Donna J. Haraway, the division between ‘nature’ and culture is not given but constructed. Questioning this dichotomy provides productive food for thought for our own thinking – and not only in the awakened Garden.

Out of Control


© Aline Klieber
  • © Aline Klieber
  • © Aline Klieber
  • © Aline Klieber

Wherever plants are found escaping from the confines of their cultural ‘prisons,’ plant horror is likely lurking just around the corner. Suddenly mobile, they attack from our perceptual blind spots and challenge our view of the world. Whether the plants are carnivorous or grow vines with no restraint – they have always stoked the creative fires of our imagination. Docile vegetation comes alive and, assuming the form of the Absolute Other, instills us with fear.

The plants in the exhibited text and movies transcend all boundaries: They infiltrate human cultural space, sometimes even invading the human body itself. In doing so, they put an end to prevailing orders and bring about grotesque mixtures of human and plant. Some of these horror plants are man-made, the (unintended) result of experiments by mad scientists, while others come to us from outer space and force us to reconsider the question of what exactly is lurking about in space. They are beyond human control, and even the field of science lacks the terms to describe them.

  • Alfred Döblin (*1878 im Deutschen Kaiserreich, +1957 in Deutschland): Berge Meere und Giganten // Mountains Oceans Giants: An Epic of the 27th Century (1924)


    Plants grow so slowly that people cannot watch them do so with the naked eye. With the emergence of film, the time-lapse suddenly made such phenomena visible. In Alfred Döblin’s novel Berge Meere und Giganten, too, plants proliferate at breakneck speed along the coasts of Greenland as if in fast motion, burying people, animals and entire cargo ships beneath them. The reason for the uncontrolled growth is human greed: in order to open up settlement areas, the characters in the novel have melted large glacial areas off Greenland, conjuring up the plant monsters.

    Like the plants, Döblin’s poetic language proliferates. Chains of words pile up like the masses of plants pushing toward the European mainland. The novel’s form and content are closely related and convey a frightening message: the plants are out of control. Texts like Berge Meere und Giganten show that plants are not passive creatures. They play on our fears when suddenly the basis of our lives – plants – turns against us.

  • Christian Nyby (1913–1993 in den USA): The Thing From Another World // Das Ding aus einer anderen Welt (1951)

    Plant Aliens

    A plant threat from the far reaches of the universe keeps a research station in the Arctic on tenterhooks. The scientists find a frozen creature in the ice and thaw it out. A bad idea, because the thing attacks the researchers and fights them. In the process, the highly evolved and seemingly intelligent alien loses an arm, which the researchers immediately examine: The arm contains neither blood nor animal tissue. Instead, they have a kind of “vegetable” in front of them, a “super carrot” to which pistol bullets do no harm. They soon realize that the alien is a carnivorous plant species that feeds on human blood. Despite the danger, the lead scientist grows seedlings from the creature’s seeds and feeds the plant offspring with the research station’s blood supplies.

    Beings like the Thing turn our ideas of the plant world upside down. Passive greenery gives way to impressive plant horror, and in threatening scenarios, humans get their asses kicked. They have to fear for their lives and often their own bodies become the scene of vegetal agency.

  • John Wyndham (1903–1969 in England): The Day of the Triffids // Die Triffids (1951)

    Carnivorous Plants

    Carnivorous plants fire our imagination: the Venus flytrap or pitcher plants feed on insects, and some carnivores even consume small rodents. They provoke numerous newspaper hoaxes in the late 19th century, in which naturalists report man-eating plants they claim to have encountered on their travels to exotic lands. In the dystopian novel The Day of the Triffids, which has been filmed several times, plants also hunt humans, and things don’t look good for them at all: a meteor shower has blinded almost all of humanity – and the deadly Triffids are gaining the upper hand.

    The humans initially use the plants for oil production. But when they go blind, they are at the mercy of the Triffids’ poisonous sting. These are frighteningly mobile: on their three roots they move through the cities, communicating with knocking signs and killing their prey. Although the Triffids have no brain, they are well organized. Individual characters even speculate about a plant intelligence, and by the end of the novel the humans do not succeed in freeing themselves from the Triffids.

Creating Together


© Aline Klieber
  • © Aline Klieber
  • © Aline Klieber
  • © Aline Klieber
  • © Aline Klieber

Humans are the center of the world – that is, at least, the basic assumption of anthropocentrism. However, worldwide challenges such as the climate crisis, species extinction, and resource scarcity show us that we are sorely mistaken to assume so. Such an insight demands a collective rethinking: To achieve a productive coexistence, we must take into account how other living beings contribute to the continuation of our planet. It is thus necessary to broaden our view and to acknowledge the agency of these other living beings, even if they had previously been deemed subordinate – not equal – to humans.

The texts presented here accomplish this in various ways, testing a new coexistence in fictional spaces. Plant intelligence and communication plays just as important a role as symbioses between humans and plants. The change of perspective is not always successful – in fact, it usually spells fatal consequences for humans. Nevertheless, all the texts invite us to break free from our engrained ways of thinking and to forge new paths.

  • Rebecca Buchanan (* in den USA ): Heliobacterium daphnephilium (2020)

    Involuntary Metamorphoses

    One need to look no further than the very title – Heliobacterium daphnephilium – to see that this poem explores the concept of metamorphosis – specifically, the metamorphosis of humans into trees. “Daphnephilium” means “friend of Daphne” and alludes to the nymph Daphne, who was transformed into a laurel tree in Metamorphoses, the work of Roman poet Ovid.

    In Buchanan’s poem, researchers are able to save the world by turning people into trees. Hidden away in secret laboratories, they have produced a bacterium that brings about the unprecedented transformation. One by one, they use it to infect most of humanity. Much like the coronavirus we’ve been dealing with for some time now, the tree bacterium spreads quite rapidly. As a consequence, humans are stripped of their agency in deciding when and how to protect their planet – indeed, in this scenario, the age of humans is a thing of the past. Forgotten are trivial things like rent, jobs, and bills. Instead, there is only time for humans to abandon their homes, stretch their arms towards the sun, and turn into trees – just like Daphne.

  • Kurd Laßwitz (1848–1910 im Deutschen Kaiserreich): Die Unbeseelten (1908)

    Do Humans Have a Soul?

    The plants in Kurd Laßwitz’s story Die Unbeseelten are not so certain. Because humans are not directly connected to the earth, they are not able to recognize life and nature as a unity. The plants therefore consider humans to have no soul. They see this assumption confirmed at first when a young girl picks a violet. However, she sees in the violet not only a messenger of the coming of spring, but recognizes that the flower wants to communicate. The text thus ends on a hopeful note.

    Kurd Laßwitz is considered the ‘father’ of German science fiction literature. In his story, he takes up the work of the natural philosopher Gustav Theodor Fechner (1801–1887). Fechner held the view that the whole world is animate, including plants. Just because they are structured differently from humans and animals, one cannot say that they are insentient or have no soul, according to Fechner.

  • Frauke Berger (*1991 in Deutschland): Grün (2018/2019)


    Plants exist in all kinds of forms in the world of Grün (eng.: Green): Here, the inhabitants of a fictional planet cultivate them in the underground gardens and then grow them on hanging plantations. Additonally, they harvest the valuable wood of their forest, using it as currency and building material.

    But the once-flourishing world is now collapsing, on a path headed towards desolation: Large parts of the planet are devastated, the soil has eroded and the inhabitants fear for their very existence. What’s worse, a plant-based plague is ravaging the exploited planet, fixed on transforming all life forms it encounters into hybrid plant creatures. The two-volume comic Grün tells of human greed and how the hunt for resources inevitably destroys an entire planet – until it fights back, that is. The planet’s inhabitants belong to partly hostile tribes and are forced into involuntary alliances with each other. They eventually succeed in containing the plant-based plague, but at a high price: Their bodies have taken on new forms, their former home planet has since become uninhabitable, leaving them with no other recourse but to flee into space with an unknown destination. Grün cautions us that we have no such option, that, in reality, there is no ‘Planet B’ waiting for us.

  • Ursula K. Le Guin (1929–2018 in den USA): Vaster than Empires and More Slow (1971) The Word For World is Forest // Das Wort für Welt ist Wald (1972)


    In the short story Vaster Than Empires and More Slow, a group of humans lands on a newly discovered planet. Though they don’t detect any animal life, they are met by an entire surface blanketed by forest. The invaders feel increasingly uncomfortable and begin to perceive a fear that seems to radiate from the planet itself. This fear, it turns out, is emanating from the plants as a result of coming into contact with other beings for the first time.

    The novella The Word for World is Forest also takes place on a planet enveloped in forest. The planet, originally home to peaceful inhabitants engaged in symbiotic relationships with their trees, is suddenly befallen by colonizers set on exploiting the planet for its rich supply of trees. In response, the galvanized inhabitants mount a resistance, eventually ridding their planet of the hostile invaders. In its criticism of colonialism, the text additionally emphasizes the importance of indigenous life forms that respectfully live in harmony with the environment.

  • Alan Dean Foster (*1946 in USA): Midworld // Die denkenden Wälder (1975)

    Wood Wide Web

    The planet Midworld is densely overgrown with mile-high trees, whose seven floors are teeming with creatures. Plants, animals, and humans are tangled up in symbiotic relationships with one another. These humans are the descendants of a group stranded on Midworld centuries ago and have since adapted to its ecosystem. However, a newly arrived group of humans is now disturbing the balance, as the invaders aim to abuse the forest’s resources and thus threaten to destroy it.

    The two groups each demonstrate divergent ways in which humans might behave in a new and alien environment: While the newly arrived colonizers are solely intent on pursuing their own interests–devastating communities unknown to them in the process –, the initial human settlers have conversely treated their new home with humility and respect. This manner of interacting with the environment is reflected in the life practices of indigenous cultures today, as exhibited in the teachings of Robin Wall Kimmerer, plant ecologist from the Potawatomi Tribe.

  • Aliya Whiteley (*1974 in England): Peace, Pipe (2018)

    Challenge First Contact

    In the short story Peace, Pipe, the protagonist finds herself trying to put an end to a war – one she is responsible for causing – on an alien planet. As a mediator, her job is to find out which creatures are in charge of newly discovered planets and make first contact. However, her last mission went terribly wrong: She mistakenly communicated with a group of Beaver-like beings instead of the Tree-like beings that actually ruled the planet. In response, the Tree-like poison their bark, thereby killing many of the Beaver-like.

    To stop the war, the mediator sends a message to the Tree-like that is transmitted through a vibrating device placed in the root system. Yet, she can’t be sure if the communication is working and what message is arriving. Ultimately, the vibrations paralyze the Tree-like, thus ending the war…but at a devastating cost– the planet’s entire ecosystem perishes. Piece, Pipe demonstrates the limits of human perception in an eye-opening manner, revealing just how difficult, how challenging it is to communicate with alien beings.

  • Sue Burke (*1955 in den USA): Semiosis (2018)

    In Conversation with Bamboo

    What might communication between plants and humans look like? Precisely this question is explored in the novel Semiosis. In the year 2065, a fraction of humanity vacates a now-decimated Earth and heads for the planet Pax, where they begin to build civilization from the ground up. However, the ecosystem on Pax functions differently than on Earth: Here, intelligent plants reign supreme.

    Appropriately, parts of Semiosis are told from the point of view of a bamboo, which wonders if humans are an intelligent species and whether they were raised by plants. To communicate with them, it displays colored pigments on its trunks, a message the humans are soon able to decipher.

    The bamboo becomes an important member of their community and even helps solve a murder. Still, there’s a catch: In order for people to take care of its water supply, the plant renders them dependent on its fruits. In our own world, we can observe the same behavior when citrus plants enrich their nectar with caffeine to help bees remember them better.

  • Roald Dahl (1916–1990 in England): The Sound Machine (1949)

    Screaming Plants

    The human ear perceives frequencies between about 20 and 20,000 hertz; anything above this is inaudible to us without technical intervention. In the short story The Sound Machine, the protagonist experiments with a hearing aid that actually makes these sounds accessible. What he doesn’t expect: When his neighbor is picking roses in the garden, he suddenly hears a sound. What’s more, when further investigating this phenomenon by striking a tree with an axe, he perceives a frighteningly deafening sound. He then realizes that the plants are emitting these sounds and ponders the content of their expressions: Is it pain, surprise, or a different emotion that can’t be translated into human terms?

    These questions also preoccupy the field of botany: Researcher Stefano Mancuso, for instance, does not think it prudent to rule out the possibility that plants can feel pain although they have no brain. Mancuso’s theses are controversial among experts, but nevertheless stimulate the imagination.