Olive Senior

‘Plants’ by Olive Senior is a unique free verse poem that describes the deceptiveness of plants. It uses irony and humor to suggest that plants are trying to take over the world.

Olive Senior

Nationality: Jamaican

Olive Senior is a Jamaican-born writer illuminating nature, identity, and Caribbean experiences.

She won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize and OCM Bocas Award for Caribbean Literature.

Key Poem Information

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Central Message: Nature is powerful

Speaker: Likely the poet

Emotions Evoked: Amusement, Contentment

Poetic Form: Free Verse

Time Period: 20th Century

This is an incredibly unique poem that utilizes humor and irony in order to depict a world in which plants are scheming to take over from humanity.

‘Plants’ by Olive Senior is a unique free verse poem describing plants’ deceptiveness. It uses irony and humor to suggest that plants are trying to take over the world. 

Throughout this piece, Senior employs several unique images and clever, humorous reasoning in order to convince the reader that plants are far smarter than they seem. They are working together, she suggests, in order to eventually take over the world. They’ve been here forever and will, she says, be here after humanity is long since gone. 


‘Plants’ by Olive Senior explores the deceptive nature of plants. They seem one way, but, in reality, they’re very different. 

Through specific examples of mangroves on the march and seeds utilizing various dispersal methods, Senior portrays plants as cunning conquerors, always one step ahead of humans. 

Even the beauty and allure of flowers serve as tools to entice creatures for their reproductive benefit. The poem concludes with a reflection on plants’ enduring power and their ability to outlast humanity with their extravagant and relentless propagation, making them the ultimate survivors in the natural world.

Structure and Form 

‘Plants’ by Olive Senior is a free verse poem that is divided into nine stanzas. These stanzas are formatted as quatrains or sets of four lines. The poet chose not to use a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern in this piece, opting instead to use words at the ends of lines that are quite different from one another. For example, in the first stanza, the poet uses “there,” “know,” “us,” and “traces.” 

Literary Devices 

In this poem, the poet makes use of a few different literary devices. For example: 

  • Caesura: occurs when the poet inserts a pause into the middle of a line of verse. For example, “Plants are deceptive. You see them there.” 
  • Personification: can be seen when the poet imbues something non-human with human characteristics. For example, throughout this piece, the poet implies that plants are scheming and working against humanity. 
  • Imagery: The poem is filled with examples of images that help to create visual and sensory experiences. For instance, the lines “armies of mangrove / on the march, roots in the air, clinging / tendrils anchoring themselves everywhere” paint a vivid picture of the tenacity and growth of plants.

Detailed Analysis 

Stanzas One and Two

Plants are deceptive. You see them there 


always running around, leaving traces. 

Yet from the way they breed (excuse me!)


a sinister not to say imperialistic

In the first stanza of this contemporary poem,  the poet highlights the deceptive nature of plants. While they may seem rooted and stationary, unlike animals always on the move, plants hold a mysterious quality. The poet makes sure to point out a contrast between the seemingly fixed nature of plants and the dynamic behavior of animals. 

As the poem progresses, the poet describes how the plants “breed” and grow exponentially and compares it, implicitly, to the way that animals do. Senior portrays plants as strategic beings, intertwining with their surroundings and openly showcasing their prolific nature. This portrayal raises questions about their true intentions. 

Readers should be able to note the poet’s use of words like “sinister” and “imperialistic” and infer that he’s going to be painting the plants in a negative light. They have a secretive nature that’s not usually noted. 

Stanzas Three and Four

grand design. Perhaps you’ve regarded,


tendrils anchoring themselves everywhere?

The world is full of shoots bent on conquest,


in capsules and seed cases.

In the third stanza, the poet implies that the plants have an “imperialistic… / grand design.” They are working towards something “sinister” in nature. The mangroves are depicted as determined and purposeful, with their “roots in the air” and “clinging tendrils” reaching out to anchor themselves everywhere. 

This imagery portrays the plants as formidable and organized forces, capable of extending their influence far and wide, something that human beings (the poet thinks) should be worried about. 

In the next lines, Senior describes the world as full of ambitious shoots and invasive seedlings. These young and determined plants are on a conquest, seeking to occupy “wide open spaces.” The poet also uses examples of militaristic language in these lines, they are “bent on conquest” and “gathered for explosive dispersal / in capsules and seed cases.” This language suggests that the plants are gearing up, with weapons, for a fight. 

They appear to have a master plan to take over the world, propagating endlessly until there is nothing left that is not plant life.  

Stanzas Five and Six

Maybe you haven’t quite taken in the


bobbing on ocean, parachuting seeds and other

airborne traffic dropping in. And what


insects, bats, birds, bees, even you –

In the fifth stanza of this poem, the poet presents some more evidence of the plants’ scheming.  She tries to draw the reader’s attention to the methods plants use to disperse their seeds around the world. She describes hitchhiking burrs on clothing, nuts surfing on ocean waves, and seeds parachuting through the air. 

This portrayal emphasizes how plants have evolved unique and resourceful ways to spread their offspring far and wide, taking advantage of various modes of transportation.

The poet also notes that flowers are purposefully adorned, perfumed, and “made-up” to attract and entice various creatures, including insects, bats, birds, bees, and even humans (“even you”). They’re meant to trick you, and the poet is suggesting convincing you to take them into your home and allow them to grow in your gardens. 

Stanzas Seven and Eight 

– don’t deny it my dear, I’ve seen you


more than ovary, the instrument to seduce

you into scattering plant progeny. Part of


become plant food and earth wind down.

In the seventh stanza, the poet addresses someone specific. This is someone she calls “dear,” suggesting that she knows them and cares about them. This person, the poet says, he’s seen sniffing and enjoying flowers. She also indicates that “you” may not be aware of the true purpose behind the fruit’s appeal.

The poet then proceeds to reveal the true nature of the sweet fruit and berry. Rather than being solely a delightful treat, the fruit is described as “nothing more than ovary,” highlighting its reproductive function in the plant’s life cycle. The fruit, through its alluring taste and appearance, becomes an “instrument to seduce” the reader, animals, or birds into consuming it.

By consuming the fruit, the reader unknowingly aids in the dispersal of the plant’s progeny. The seeds within the fruit pass through the digestive system and are excreted elsewhere, providing an opportunity for the seeds to grow in new locations. This process is part of a larger “vast cosmic program” in which plants have evolved various strategies to ensure their survival and expansion.

Stanza Nine 

They’ll outlast us, they were always there


extravagant, reckless, improvident, weed.

In the final and ninth stanza of the poem, the poet concludes by saying that the plants are certainly going to “outlast us.” They were always there, meaning they were always on earth and always one step ahead of humanity. 

The use of the term “weed” is interesting here. In a horticultural context, a weed is often considered undesirable or invasive. However, in this context, it may carry a more neutral connotation, simply referring to the resilience and persistence of plants in general. It could also be hoping to inspire the reader to see plants in a new light, as something dangerous. 


What is the theme of the poem ‘Plants?’ 

The theme of this poem is the power of nature. The poem explores how plants, despite their seemingly stationary and unassuming appearance, employ various cunning methods to spread their offspring and colonize diverse environments.

What is the tone of the poem?

The tone is playful and humorous. This is seen in the use of phrases like “excuse me!” and “don’t deny it my dear, I’ve seen you / sniff and exclaim.” This light-hearted approach engages the reader and adds a touch of irony to the serious subject matter.

What is the purpose of the poem? 

The poem should inspire readers to reflect on the relationship between humans and the natural world. The poet encourages readers to observe and appreciate the often-overlooked behaviors of plants. 

What kind of poem is ‘Plants?’ 

‘Plants’ is a free verse, humorous and ironic poem that does not follow a specific rhyme scheme, meter, or pattern. But, the poem is consistently formatted in quatrains for four-line stanzas

Similar Poetry 

Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some other related poems. For example:

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Olive Senior (poems)

Olive Senior

Olive Senior's poetry, including 'Plants,' showcases her skill in depicting the complexities of the natural world. Through her use of literary devices and a playful tone, Senior explores the deceptive nature of plants and their strategic survival techniques. Her unique perspective allows readers to appreciate the often-overlooked aspects of nature, prompting contemplation about our relationship with the environment.
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20th Century

This poem does, in some ways, reflect the shift towards more experimental and free verse forms. The poem's lack of traditional structure allows Senior to explore the theme of nature and its cunning attributes with flexibility and creativity. This piece is not particularly well-known, though.
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This poem does, in some ways, reflect the rich cultural and natural landscapes of Jamaica. Olive Senior's unique perspective as a Jamaican poet allows her to infuse the poem with local sensibilities and a deep appreciation for the flora and fauna of the region. While this poem is not incredibly well-known, Senior's poetry generally is highly important.
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The poem revolves around the theme of nature, specifically plants, revealing their deceptive and strategic characteristics. Olive Senior's portrayal of plants challenges common perceptions, reminding readers of the intricate and calculated ways plants ensure their survival. The focus on nature invites readers to appreciate the beauty and complexity of the natural world, fostering a sense of connection and responsibility towards the environment.
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New Life

The poem touches on the concept of new life as it delves into the reproductive strategies of plants. Senior highlights how sweet fruits and berries are instrumental in scattering plant progeny, fostering new life and growth.
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This poem indirectly reminds readers of the therapeutic benefits of being in nature while also indicating that if one wants to survive, one needs to pay attention to the natural world.. Observing the cunning and resourceful behaviors of plants can also invoke a sense of wonder and joy, contributing to overall well-being and mental wellness.
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Through its playfulness and humor, 'Plants' amuses and entertains readers. The poem's engaging and witty tone enhances the enjoyment of the readers' experience, making them more receptive to its underlying message about the resilience of nature.
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The contentment found in the poem lies in its celebration of the natural world's remarkable abilities. Senior's portrayal of plants' cunning and strategic behavior prompts readers to find contentment in observing the wonders of the environment.
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This poem highlights the contrast between human behavior and that of plants. While humans often seem hasty and unpredictable, the poem suggests that plants have a sophisticated and patient approach to survival.
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There is currently no rating and description for the tag of Irony.
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Man vs Nature

The poem addresses the concept of man versus nature by revealing the calculated and strategic behavior of plants. This juxtaposition encourages readers to acknowledge the resilience of the natural world and raises questions about humanity's role in maintaining harmony with nature rather than dominating it.
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The poem's central subject is plants, and Olive Senior portrays them as complex and strategic organisms. By shedding light on their cunning and deceptive nature, the poem invites readers to reconsider their perception of plants and recognize the intelligence behind their survival mechanisms.
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Free Verse

This poem is an example of a free verse poem, showcasing the versatility of this form. The lack of strict rhyme and meter allows the poet to express her observations and insights with freedom.
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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.

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