Super-plants or how to create artificial life

dsc08777The centuries on plants (V, VI and VII) abound of observations of the so called ‘rudiments’ of plants, or super-plants, i.e., things growing on other plants, spontaneously generated from their own sap.

Super-plants include moss, mushrooms, toadstools, agaric, but also various excrescences on the bark of the tree, such as oak-apples (1) etc. There are also super-plants which are closer to plants properly speaking, such as holly. What all these have in common is that they grow from the very sap of the tree.

dsc08959Although Bacon does not offer a full-fledged theory of the growth of these super-plants and rudiments, it is fairly clear that the factors influencing this process of spontaneous generations are:

  1. the quality of the sap (its degree of concoction, its speed)
  2. the quality of the bark (through which the super-plant is strained) – finer barks, with smaller pores seem to be conducive to the production of moss (also, Bacon claims in century VII, following the tradition, that oak has the most kids of super-plants and spurious fruits, because of his dense and fine-grained bark)
  3. the humidity of the surrounding medium (which is basically influencing the quality of the sap)

In the case of the trees, Bacon states quite clearly that the moss is an excretion of the sap (542), an ‘eruption’ of the most concocted part of it which is thus generating outside the borders of the bark (Bacon claims that moss grows on trees which, for various causes, cannot produce branches anymore. Causes include being too old, i.e., having a sap that is too slow, or having a bark that is too strong etc.).

Super-plants without the plant

However, moss grows on other places as well – on stones, on the ground, on the old walls etc. This is what makes it fascinating; one can use the presence of moss to identify something about the quality of the sap (or juices) in a particular plant (place), the quality of the support on which the moss grows (how porous it is) and the degree of humidity.

Moss, mushrooms and other excrescences are thus transformed into instruments of measuring the degree of concoction of sap in a given place/plant.

Manipulating life

Another interesting line of investigation is the operative one, when the investigator of nature manipulates the sap in order to produce new forms of life. One such manipulations involves the cutting of the bark of a tree to let the sap out. If the conditions are suitable (heat, speed of the sap etc.) this can result in the spontaneous generation of a super-plant (maybe even a new one, a new form of life). By cutting the bark in various ways, one can stop moss from growing, or can produce more moss, one can help the production of holy or one can even help to produce new plants so far undiscovered.


  • experiments on super-plants
  • other experiments involving moss and mushrooms
  • using moss to “measure” the qualities and virtues of a plant or of the earth, clay etc.
  • types of moss and other rudiments


(1) These are all produced by insects. But Bacon and his contemporary did not know that. They believed they are some super-plants or super-fruits developed on a tree because of the excess of sap, heat or other such causes.

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