The Green Man: the desire for deeper connections with nature

Prudence Gibson


In an epoch of compromised ecologies and parallel changes in human perceptions of nature, this paper charts the development of the Green Man or Foliate Face in art and architecture. The Green Man first appeared in France in the 1st century and flourished in British architecture in the 11–15th centuries. This pagan character was a Wildman, worshipped as both an apotropaic and benevolent spirit, associated with fertility. This paper provokes an inquiry into whether the leafy extrusions from Green Man’s mouth are a form of nonhuman desiring language, a means of communicating with the plant world, or merely a site of vegetal genesis and agency. In contemporary visual art, the concept of the Green Man or the hybrid plant–animal has emerged anew, no doubt in response to climate change fears and diminishing ecodiversities. Edourdo Kac’s 'Enigma', for instance, is a genetically modified petunia flower, created from Kac’s DNA, combining human and plant genes in the one plant. This paper draws on the plant philosophy of Michael Marder and traces the Green Man plant–human hybrid into the present, as a means of documenting the way nature thinks through humans.


ecocriticism; critical plant studies; cultural studies

Full Text:



Ackroyd, Heather and Dan Harvey. ‘Chlorophyll Apparitions’. Signs of Life: Bio Art and Beyond. Ed. Eduardo Kac. New York: MIT Press, 2006. 199-210. Print.

Albrecht, Glenn, et al. ‘Solastalgia: The Distress Caused by Environmental Change’. Australas Psychiatry 15 Suppl. 1 (2007): S95-S98. Print.

Anderson, William. Green Man: The Archetype of Oneness with the Earth. London: Harper Collins, 1998. Print.

Barad, Karen. ‘Nature’s Queer Performativity’. Qui Parle 19.2 (2012): 121-58. Print.

Basford, Kathleen. The Green Man. London: Boydell and Brewer, 1978. Print.

Centerwall, Brandon. ‘The Name of the Green Man’. Folklore

(1997): 28. Print.

Chamovitz, Daniel. What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses. New York: Scientific American, 2013. Print.

Dinshaw, Carolyn. ‘Black Skin, Green Masks: Medieval Foliate Heads, Racial Trauma, and Queer World-making’. The Middle Ages in the Modern World. Ed. Bettina Bildhauer and Chris

Jones. Oxford: OUP, 2017. Forthcoming. Print.

Gagliano, Monica. ‘Love Thy Neighbour: Facilitation through an Alternative Signalling Modality in Plants’. BMC Ecology 13.19 (2013): 13-19.

——. ‘Green Symphonies: A Call for Studies in Acoustic Communication in Plants,’ Behavioural Ecology 24.4 (2013): 789-96. Print.

Hayman, Richard. The Green Man. Sussex: Shire Publications, 2015. Print.

Hicks, Clive. The Green Man: A Field Guide. Fakenham: Compass Books, 2000. Print.

Irigaray, Luce and Michael Marder. Through Vegetal Being. New York: Columbia UP, 2016. Print.

Kac, Eduardo, ed. Signs of Life: Bio Art and Beyond. New York: MIT Press, 2006. Print.

Kristeva, Julia. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. New York: Columbia UP, 1982. Print.

Mabey, Richard. The Cabaret of Plants. London: Profile Books, 2015. Print.

MacDermott, Mercia. Explore Green Men. Wymeswold: Heart of Albion Press, 2006. Print.

Marder, Michael. Plant-thinking: A Philosophy of Vegetal Life. New York, Columbia UP, 2013. Print.

——. The Philosopher’s Plant: An Intellectual Herbarium. New York: Columbia UP, 2014. Print.

——. ‘Vegetal Metaphysics: Learning from Plants’. Continental Philosophy Review 44.4 (2011): 469-89. Print.

Negus, Tina. ‘A Photographic Study of Green Man and Green Beasts in Britain’. Folklore 114.2 (2003): 247-61. Print.

Petric, Spela. ‘Confronting Vegetal Otherness’. Skotopoiesis. Accessed December 2016.

Raglan, Lady Julia. ‘The Green Man in Church Architecture’. Folklore 50.1 (1939): 45-57. Print.

Smith, Bernard. Place, Taste and Tradition. Sydney: Ure Smith, 1945. Print.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Trans. Jessie Weston. Cambridge: In Parentheses Publications, 1999. PDF. Accessed 6 February 2017.


  • There are currently no refbacks.