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School of Politics and International Relations

On a date with a plant: our botanical relations and the history of vegetal

When: Monday, May 22, 2023, 3:00 PM - 5:00 PM
Where: To be announced, Mile End Campus

Plants are sexy… at least that was a big concern of the eighteenth century. That's when biologists discovered that flowers do not reproduce like the Virgin Mary, but instead involve everything that moves in their pollination process. What’s more, plants turned out to have so many sex combination and reproduction possibilities that botany was suddenly considered an amoral pursuit for women, since they might get the wrong ideas about monogamy and matrimony. Over time, anxieties about vegetal eroticism returned whenever there were new developments regarding human sexuality—and with them, humorous literature that mocked these fears. As discussions about sexual orientation became increasingly important at the beginning of the twentieth century for instance, schools banned botany instruction, so that children would not find out about bisexual plants and their ability to reproduce with themselves. Follow me on a journey through this history and the texts that satirized vegetal eroticism, and find out where you might find the dangerous “plant prostitutes” or "masturbating magnolias” from this literature here in London. (Psst, we’re really close!)

If the history of vegetal eroticism left you curious, join me for a little exercise in plant speed dating afterward. Ask yourself, do you sometimes talk to your houseplants while you water them? Can’t resist touching that fuzzy cactus, even though you know it’ll hurt you? Think the flowers in your garden are blooming just for you? Plant speed dating will bring you face to leaf with vegetal beings to reflect on your relationship with the plants around you. Maybe you’ll hit it off and take someone home, maybe you’ll have to reconsider questions of monogamy and consent… or you’ll fall in love. (Vegetal Speed Dating is inspired by artists Christina Stadlbauer and Regula Heggli.)

About the Speaker:

Dr Joela Jacobs is Assistant Professor of German Studies at the University of Arizona, and she founded and maintains the Literary and Cultural Plant Studies Network ( Her research focuses on 19th-21st century German literature and film, Animal Studies, Environmental Humanities, Jewish Studies, the History of Sexuality, and the History of Science. In Plant Studies, she works on the concept of phytopoetics, particularly in the form of vegetal eroticism and violence.

This lecture is part of the Environmental Futures Lecture Series curated by Dr Giulia Carabelli and sponsored by the Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences at Queen Mary University of London.

All are welcome to join, but please register via Eventbrite. The exact meeting point location in Bloomsbury will be communicated via email to those who have registered.

[Photo credit: David Wang-“Mums rejecting their suitor for talking only about himself, while a happier match looks on. Plant speed dating at Eden, facilitated by Joela Jacobs.”]

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