Plants as metaphors

“The grounding of metaphors is our basic experiences”. (Ungerer & Schmid, 2001:126) And one of the most fundamental human experiences is that of agriculture. Plants we grow provide our basic needs in shelter, food, medicines, clothing and so on… It is natural thing for human beings to find similarities between plants and themselves.
Plant Metaphors in English Economic Newspaper Text (PDF)

From tiny acorns…

I looked at this a bit in the post about seeds but we have the seed of an idea, seed capital, seed money… Seeds are seen as things of potential, small ideas which will grow into big things.

In the early 5th century, Bodhidharma encouraged people to look at life as though we were living in a huge garden within which one constantly sows seeds. These seeds being thoughts and actions set the stage for our future.  He also compares our minds to roots:

“The mind is the root from which all things grow if you can understand the mind, everything else is included. It’s like the root of a tree. All a tree’s fruit and flowers, branches and leaves depend on its root. If you nourish its root, a tree multiplies. If you cut its root, it dies. Those who understand the mind reach enlightenment with minimal effort.”

“Every time we practice mindful living, we plant healthy seeds and strengthen the healthy seeds already in us. Healthy seeds function similarly to antibodies. When a virus enters our bloodstream, our body reacts and antibodies come and surround it, take care of it, and transform it. This is true with our psychological seeds as well. If we plant wholesome, healing, refreshing seeds, they will take care of the negative seeds, even without our asking them. To succeed, we need to cultivate a good reserve of refreshing seeds.”
– Thich Nhat Hanh

“The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

We also talk of bad seeds and seeds experience a dormant phase, the space where you mull ideas over, see if the time is right and prepare them to enter the world.


Next in the plant’s life, we have roots.  We set down roots, we go back to our roots, we seek our the root of our problems.  We have deep rooted beliefs and we talk of grounding ourselves which is one function of the plant’s roots.

And shoots

And then the stem grows and we have sprouting, budding, flowering, branching and fruition.  We have things stemming from something, we branch out and branch off.  We have branches of shops and branches of families.  Things bear fruit which we harvest and reap, ideas and children bud and blossom.

“If what I say resonates with you, it is merely because we are both branches on the same tree.”
– W. B. Yeats

“Do not be afraid to go out on a limb…That’s where the fruit is.”
– Anonymous


Through this, plants in gardens and fields are weeded and pruned back.  Seedlings are germinating, sprouting and we plant and sow and plough on.

“Every moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul.”
– Thomas Merton

“We were all born to be peaceful citizens of the world. Take care of your global garden and do not allow evil gardeners to try and convince you which flowers are ugly and which should be destroyed.”
– Suzy Kassem

And then the plant withers as we do.. from too much sun or too little water, much as we do.

Plant specific

There are also a host of plant specific metaphors.  We talk of rosy cheeks and couch potatoes.  You might express your love for the apple of your eye through the language of flowers.

We also have plant specific symbols such as an olive branch for peace, a fir tree for Christmas, a maple for Canada and so on and so on.

Once you start looking for plants in our language, you find it’s riddled with them.

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