What does a plant look like when it’s having fun? As one group of product designers started thinking about recent philosophical debates about the consciousness of animals and plants, they decided to try an experiment: They took plants on as a “client,” and designed devices to help the plants have a better sex life.
Some of the resulting sex toys for plants are actually sort of practical. A flower called cyclamen, for example, co-evolved with a specific bee that is now extinct. The designers came up with a vibrator to replace the bee–the device shakes at the exact frequency the bee once buzzed, which makes the flower release pollen onto other visiting insects.
Other devices help reduce the STDs of the plant world, like fungal infections spread by visiting insects. “The best way to prevent the spread of an STD is abstinence, but with such attractive petals, which bug could resist the temptation?” the Plant Sex Consultancy designers write of their design for a carnation. “Vanity lace,” which masks certain flowers on the plant, helps reduce the chances that the plant will contract a disease like rust or smut.
Another device is a little more absurd. For turmeric, a plant that lies dormant half the year and reproduces by producing clones–so it technically has no sex life at all–the designers imagined an elaborate ritual. A balloon would take the plant to the edge of the atmosphere, where radiation would make it mutate; the mutant turmeric would then drop back to a completely different place on Earth, transformed.
It’s true that sex toys already exist in the plant world; tomatoes in greenhouses, for example, are sometimes pollinated with the aid of vibrators. And as bees continue to struggle to survive colony collapse disorder, maybe devices like this will become more common. But for the designers, the main reason for the project was philosophical.
“We undertook the absurdist trajectory towards how we ‘think’ as the Other, reflecting the new trend of biocentrism discussions with an ample amount of humor and self-irony,” the designers say. They also raised questions about the role humans can–or should–play in designing for the natural world.
“The artwork is conceived as a challenge to designers to create utilitarian objects for the non-human, which in itself is a paradox. How do we know what the plants need?” the team says.
Still, the designers are interested in testing the devices more in the real world. All of the designs were based on science, aided by the fact that two of the designers were first trained as scientists. “At the moment the designs are conceptual, but we’ve based them on hard science research as much as possible, and then appropriated their shape to allude to human sex toys and medical devices,” the team says. “We would definitely like to try them in reality and see how the plants will find them.”