The Botany of Desire

Girl Under Glass Introduction

Meat Eating Plants

 In 1966, FBI polygraph instructor, Cleve Backster, solely on a whim, hooked his undernourished, and often ignored, office plant to a lie detector. He was curious about whether he could record its physiological reaction to receiving water. He expected increased electrical conductivity as the water reached its leaves. Instead, the polygraph needle trended in the opposite direction, equivalent to a sigh of relief. Backster was so surprised by this reaction that the possible explanation began to consume him and, until his death, he pursued what he believed happened that day, that he had established contact with the plant kingdom.
            I think it was 1974, when I first read about this experiment and many others in a book entitled The Secret Life of Plants, which is still available and selling well on Amazon—perhaps even your local bookstore. I found it fascinating, as did others. It launched an era of people talking to their plants and playing them classical music. Funny now. Kind of. The thing is, poor Cleve Backster was ridiculed by the scientific community for the rest of his life, but he never conceded defeat. He studied plant communication right down to a cellular level until the end of his life. I spoke with him some years before his death, and he sent me the book he’d written on the subject, which he called Primary Perception.
            The most remarkable experiment Backster performed went (as well as I can remember) as follows: He put two plants in his lab, one of which was hooked to a polygraph. He then had his students draw straws. The one with the short straw—and no one knew who that was—went into the lab and destroyed the plant not attached to the lie detector. He torn it out of its pot, ripped its leaves off, and stomped on it. Afterward, Backster filed his entire class through the lab and when the “murderer” passed by, the witness-plant had a violent reaction—recorded on the polygraph.
            I love gee-whiz biology.
           In 1974, I was not a writer. The idea of becoming a writer had never crossed my mind. I was a college drop-out who failed English numerous times. In 1974, I was a flight attendant, and recently married. At that time, Colombo was a wildly popular detective series, featuring a rumpled-trench-coat wearing Peter Falk as Colombo. The twist was, viewers got to see how the perpetrator planned and carefully carried out the murder, then watched Colombo try to figure out how it was done, and how he was going to prove it.
            I was so enamored of The Secret Life of Plants, I thought it would make a great Colombo episode. Imagine the perfect murder with a house plant as the only witness. I did something I’d never done before, or since, I wrote the producers, and received a short reply: “We have writers.”
            In 1977, I went back to college. In 1982, I wrote an editorial for a local newspaper about an abandoned dog. It was published and one of the editors called me and said, if I could write like that, they’d publish anything I wrote. The phone called that changed my life! At the time, I was a biology major and had Organic Chemistry, Physics, and Calculus yet to take. I signed up for a creative writing class instead. Really. That’s how this thirty-year plus odyssey began.
            The first story I wrote in my first creative writing class was the one about my husband sinking his airboat and walking out of the Everglades. The second was entitled, The Greenhouse, about a young girl whose biology professor is murdered and she figures out the plants in his lab are witnesses. It was, frankly, crap. I still have it around here somewhere, in case I ever get to thinking I was blessed with a story-telling gene.
            And the point is? I have five published novels, and five unpublished novels. One of them is entitled Girl Under Glass. It’s The Greenhouse with 30 years of writing experience under my belt. I love this book, but no publisher (and I’ve had four different ones) has ever shown any interest in it. I like to think it’s because Marketing doesn’t believe kids (my main audience) will be interested in reading about plants. I think anyone who enjoys a good mystery, or sci-fi (even if it's not,) will like this book.
By now, you get where I’m going.
I’ve had nearly 80,000 hits on this blog. I realize that may well be 100 of my best friends who have dutifully clicked on each and every post over the last four years. Still it's a place to start.
When Backster did his experiments, he was unaware of the recent research into plant communication. In The Botany of Desire, by Michael Pollan, explores the way plants have for centuries maneuvered us into protecting and propagating them, how they lure us with beautiful blooms to provide food, water and space to grow. They enlist us as allies to ensure their survival. But what if it goes beyond the exchange of nutrition, transportation and space? What if they form attachments—perhaps care enough to use their defenses to attempt to warn us of danger?  
In Daniel Chamovitz’s recent book, What Plants Know, he delves into the mystery of how they can warn each other of predation; how carnivorous plants know when to spring the trap. It's another fascinating read.

This is the Girl Under Glass “elevator speech,” sent to disinterested editors.

When Kelsey McCully, shoplifts a gardenia for her mother, she steps across a line and discovers how deep a relationship with the botanical inhabitants of this planet can go, but the question remains will Kelsey McCully, a troubled teenager, find—in a cranky old man, a roly-poly cat, and a greenhouse full of plants—the support she needs to straighten out her life?

Maybe this will work out, and Girl Under Glass will find an audience. Maybe it won’t. Either way, it will be out there for a few to enjoy, and that will make me, and my philodendron happy.  
I’ll start with this Introduction, and post a chapter a week. Tuesday's with Kelsey. At the beginning of each chapter will be a link to the Intro and any preceding chapter.   


Girl Under Glass builds on the intriguing scientific research into plant communication as detailed in the still popular, best-selling The Secret Life of Plants, and more recently The Botany of Desire, and What Plants Know. 

Kelsey McCully, 13, is fatherless and living with an alcoholic mother. When she gets arrested for shoplifting, the judge sentences her to community service with a local botanist who is trying to duplicate experiments done with plants. When the botanist is severely beaten and robbed, Kelsey discovers the secret of these communications but must convince the police that the greenhouse plants are witnesses to the crime.  

Girl Under Glass weaves the themes of family alcoholism, family secrets, and the everyday struggles facing most teens with the mystery and intrigue of our relationship to the natural world. It moves Kelsey from coping with her loneliness and self-doubt expressed through bad behavior and association with other outcast kids, to learning to trust enough to ask for help for herself and her mother.     


Despite not having brains or nervous systems in the traditional sense, plants are surprisingly sophisticated. They can communicate with each other and signal impending danger to their neighbors by releasing chemicals into the air. Plants constantly react to their environment — not only light and temperature changes, but also physical stimuli.       
                                                                                  Washington 7/10/14

... cleve backster primaryperception com cleve backster wikipedia backster 
The Backster Effect: If plants can communicate, what are they saying?