Albert Einstein and Plants.

Reminder that The Quiet Branches has joined Sci Logs. And I’m posting in duplicate both here and there

This month, November 2015, marks 100 years of Einstein’s theory of general relativity. And there’s been a lot written about it all over the internet and scientific journals, etc.

There are a few connections to plants that Albert Einstein has that do shed some light on his life. As many scientists, Einstein loved nature and devoted his life to studying it.

He was a vegetarian.

And no doubt, he used a lot of paper working out his famous equations and as per the time, all scientific discoveries would have been communicated on paper for the most part.

Germany has a system of small communicty garden allotments in cities. And when Einstein lived in Berlin in 1922, he had one of these gardens that he was reprimanded for not upkeeping well with lots of weeds growing.

Einstein was Jewish and was a supporter of establishing a homeland for the Jewish People in Palestine (he was no stranger to the persecution of Jews in Europe at the time, and was certainly acutely aware of it when he did not return to Germany when the Nazis came to power). One way he showed support was visiting the site of the university and planting a palm tree that still stands at Technion University in Haifa, Israel, the year before the University enrolled students. He also helped raise funds towards supporting the university. As a scientist, Einstein probably really liked the idea of helping set up a university to spread knowledge.

Trees are often used as symbols of hope and resilience, of growing towards the future. I’d like to think that the symbolism of planting a tree was not lost on Einstein in terms of the future of the university as well as the idea that a growing tree can represent growing knowledge.

When he settled in Princeton, Einstein also apparently had a begonia he kept as a houseplant. This begonia is a hybrid, Begonia ‘Lucerna‘; apparently a hybrid of Begonia teuscheri and Begonia coccinea. This begonia lives on today, propagated clonally, and I heard about it by googling “Einstein plants”.

The last few years have seen some evidence produced of “Quantum Biology”, including evidence in photosynthetic light harvesting complexes. The chlorophyll molecules that make up the antenna complexes apparently operate at a remarkably high efficiency, delivering excited electrons to a reaction center where the light reactions of photosynthesis can begin. Whether this quantum mechanical aspect of light harvesting has fitness benefits and was selected for during evolution is still an open question.

Einstein did contribute to quantum mechanics as well as the behavior and nature of light and perhaps more grandly, just how the universe works.

In an example of Carl Sagan’s quote that “We are a way for the cosmos to know itself”, plants (and their photosynthetic bacterial ancestors) first figured out how to harvest light from the sun to oxygenate the Earth’s atmosphere and provide an energy conduit for animals to live on. That eventually lead to Albert Einstein and his contribution to science including figuring out something that photosynthetic bacteria did billions of years ago: how light works.

This post appeared on the SciLogs version of this post. Here is the comment on that post:

Vintage Basil
vintagebasil at

Hi Ian! I am one of the lucky ones who has a number of Einstein Begonias in my house. I first received one a few years ago from a retired teacher who is part of my gardening group. His wife had a direct link to Einstein through her aunt or great aunt. I have the documentation that came with the plant somewhere. I have been really fortunate to start about eight more plants from the one I first received. I give them away as gifts to people I believe will appreciate them. Thank you for the article. It was very interesting. Geri





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