Botanophobia is the extreme, unwarranted and often irrational fear of plants. The word Botanophobia is derived from Greek word ‘botane’ which means grass or pasture, and ‘phobos’ which is Greek for deep aversion or dread. Another possible origin of this word is also from the Greek word Botanikos which means herbs, since some people are only terrified of certain herbs (or herbs under specific conditions/ situations).
To normal people, plants/herbs might seem like odd objects to fear but to people suffering from this phobia, life can become miserable. They live in the constant fear that plants or trees might evolve someday and harm or eat people. Considering the fact that plants are everywhere, the phobics have to go to great lengths to avoid them. Some even refuse to step outdoors owing to their fear. A celebrity with an excessive fear of plants is Christina Ricci who is known to be terrified of houseplants (famously stating they are “dirty”). Plant phobia is also closely linked to Anthophobia which is the fear of flowers, which in turn might be linked to the individual’s fear of wasps, bees or other stinging insects that are attracted to flowers.
Causes of Botanophobia
As with all phobias, the extreme fear of plants might also be linked to an individual’s traumatic episode concerning plants: brush with poison ivy, association of certain types of flowers or plants with the memory of a loved one who has passed, the presence of wreaths and flowers at funerals or simply the memories of a serious injury, illness or allergic reaction resulting plants such as stinging nettles, cacti, thorns of roses etc. All these episodes can trigger Botanophobia in young children. While most kids get over their phobia with age, some continue to suffer way into adulthood.
Another cause of Botanophobia is the superstitious beliefs ingrained in one’s mind about plants. Some cultures talk about plants and trees and their associations with witches, fairies demons and other evil beings that could end up possessing humans. Another, rather modern, superstition concerns plants in hospitals and hospices is that these facilities should not have plants as they might suck out all oxygen from the room harming sick patients. This belief is also based on pseudoscience that plants draw a little oxygen at nighttime –most phobics refuse to acknowledge the fact that plants give out ten times more oxygen in the day than they use up at night.
Another cause of Botanophobia is their possible association with germs/microbes- people with severe germ phobia (Nosophobia) might believe that plants are dirty and cause diseases. Certain plants are actually toxic to humans. In ancient Rome, for example, Strychnine tree’s seeds were used to poison people. Also plants like Poison Ivy also produce allergic reactions on human skin. So the fear’s root could be evolutionary- the brain’s flight or fight response to fearful or harmful situations or things.
Additionally, people with pre-existing anxiety disorders, certain deficiencies or diseases could also suffer from the irrational fear of plants.
Many movies and novels have depicted carnivorous plants harming humans. Examples include the 1978 classic Attack of Killer Tomatoes where tomatoes go on a killing spree, as well as The Little Shop of Horrors (1986) which was the remake of the 1960 movie of the same name. Likewise, the 2008 movie The Ruins (based on novel of the same name) also shows horrifying carnivorous plants in a seriously scary light. Such shows, stories and movies can also trigger Botanophobia in nervous minded or young individuals.
Like any other phobia, the fear of plants phobia can give rise to various psychological and physical symptoms. These include
- Shaking, trembling
- Racing heart and sweaty palms, rapid shallow breathing, dry mouth
- Thoughts of death/dying
- The desire to flee, or run or hide.
- The phobic, in extreme cases, might refuse to step outside for fear of encountering plants. S/he might try everything in their control to limit their contact with plants.
Many plant phobics experience a full blown panic attack at the mere sight or thought of plants which can be embarrassing to them. Some tend to refuse eating vegetables and fruits owing to their fear giving rise to deficiencies. Needless to say, such behavior can also affect personal relationships.
Severe Botanophobia can be threatening to individuals and can greatly impact one’s day to day existence. In such a case, it is essential to get treated with the help of a therapist. There are many drugs available today that can help suppress anxiety symptoms resulting from phobias. But these must be taken under the guidance of the doctor and only for symptomatic relief. For long term cure, it is best to use self help techniques like positive visualization, meditation etc to conquer the fear of plants.
Additionally, treatment options like Cognitive behavior therapy, hypnotherapy, neuro linguistic programming and gradual desensitization etc can also help overcome Botanophobia. These treatment modalities help get to the root of the phobia and erase the anxiety once and for all. Gradual desensitization is especially useful- it is done by exposing the phobic slowly to the object of his fear- in this case plants. Thus, he might be shown pictures of plants or made to touch plants until he is comfortably able to control the anxiety response to his fear of plants for good.