top of page

Metamorphosis of Plant & Butterfly

Christoph Hueck (DE)

The comparison of the metamorphosis between plant and insect (butterfly) is an instructive example of the Goethean study of formative forces. In the article Principles of organic Gestalt-formation, it was described that in both metamorphoses, constructive, substance-creating and deconstructive forces work together.

Correspondence between butterfly and plant (Husemann 2015, p.157)

The constructive principle of formation works in rhythmic repetition (that is: temporally) of similar elements of high vitality, while the degradative, shaping principle leads to spatially integrated, differentiated overall forms, which are often less vital, but allow reproduction by two sexes. (Biologically, one speaks of a vegetative and a generative phase.)

Comparing the development of the plant and the butterfly reveals astonishing similarities and characteristic differences. Andreas Suchantke and Wilhelm Hoerner have described this correspondence and the principles of formation at work in them (Suchantke 1966, Hoerner 1991).

The correspondences between seed and egg, leaf and caterpillar, bud and pupa, and flower and imago are obvious. However, some additional aspects should be highlighted. Thus the leaves are formed in rhythmic succession, while the caterpillar not only has a rhythmically (metamerically) articulated body form, but grows by rhythmic moulting and moves in a rhythmic manner (by expanding and contracting).

In the case of the plant, the leaves once formed remain, while the caterpillar is reshaped as a whole. While the plant shows successive expansion and contraction, in the butterfly it is the appearance and disappearance of the whole organism. This becomes clearest in the almost complete dissolution of the organism in the chrysalis and the remodelling as a butterfly. While sucessive transformation is characteristic of plants, the simultaneous transformation of the whole organism is characteristic of animal development.

As with the plant, expansion and contraction alternate, so with the butterfly, rest and mobility. This not only reveals living forces of growth and creation, but the soul life of the butterfly appears through its physical mobility.

But something soul-related also works in the blossom, because the colour and the scent aim at soul reactions of the animal world and many seeds are spread by animals. One can say: the soul that surrounds the blossom, as it were from the outside, embodies itself in the butterfly as inner feeling and desire.

This relation was summarised by Rudolf Steiner in a saying, in which the living conditions of plant and butterfly are also taken into account: :

Imagine the plant!

It is the butterfly

Bound by the earth.

Imagine the butterfly!

It is the plant

Liberated by the Cosmos.

Plant & Butterfly



Seed / Egg

Contraction, smallest physical appearance, highest developmental potential

Passively distributed by wind or animals

Actively distributed by female

Leaf / Caterpillar

Expansion through vegetative growth in space and time​, strong vitality

Rhythmical repetition of leaves

Rhythmical (metameric) organisation of body shape

Spatial expansion in stem and leaf blade, contraction in node and petiole.​

Movement of organism by contraction and expansion

Rhythmical shape-variation of leaves in space

Rhythmical repetition of molds in time

Bud / Chrysalis

Contraction, resting phase​

New organs already present​

New organs through degradation and new generation​

Flower / Imago

Expansion, expressive physical appearance, complex and integrated Gestalt with different, delicate organs, strongly reduced vitality, division of sexes, sexual reproduction

Radiance in space through colours and scents

Propagation in space and time through flying

Relation to inner experiences​​

Attraction of animals

Reaction to flowers and attraction of sexes


Grohmann, Gerbert: Die Pflanze. Ein Weg zum Verständnis ihres Wesens. Bd. I. Stuttgart 1959.

Hoerner, Wilhelm: Der Schmetterling. Metamorphose und Urbild. Stuttgart 1991.

Husemann, Armin: Form, Leben und Bewusstsein. Einführung in die Menschenkunde der anthroposophischen Medizin. Stuttgart 2015.

Suchantke, Andreas: Die Metamorphose bei Blütenpflanze und Schmetterling. In: Elemente der Naturwissenschaft 4/1966, S. 1-7.


bottom of page