Posted by: Deryn Davidson, Boulder County Extension Agent
Did you know that a large percentage of our population is afflicted with something known as Plant Blindess? It’s true! By definition these poor people have “the inability to see or notice the plants in one’s own environment” which leads to "the inability to recognize the importance of plants in the biosphere and in human affairs.” Sad. It seems that most people favor animals over plants. Sure animals might seem more charismatic and dynamic, but come on people!! We would be nothing without plants!!
All joking aside, plant blindness actually has some pretty big implications. The term was coined in 1998 by botanists James Wandersee of Louisiana State University and Elisabeth Schussler of the Ruth Patrick Science Education Center and it’s a pretty fascinating topic. The average person truly just doesn’t process that there are plants in their view. Because plants grow close to one another, are a similar color and don’t move (much), humans tend to lump them together as “non-threatening things” and filter them out of the many, many other bits of visual data the eyes receive.
"There is a kaleidoscopic array of visual information bombarding our retinas every waking second, and plants are so easy to ignore unless they are in bloom," Wandersee says. "Plant blindness is the human default condition."
The issue that arises is that if people don’t pay attention to plants, they won’t place much importance on them and the role they play in our daily lives. They are, of course, not only food, they are medicine, they are fiber, they are fuel, they are beauty, and on and on.
So what can we do about this?? Be plant advocates!! I have no doubt that many of the people that read this blog are already in that camp. Anytime there is an opportunity to tell our family, friends, neighbors and what the heck, complete strangers about the wonders of plants, we should seize that moment! Capture their imagination with your stories of your favorite plants and gardening moments. I would think that exposing younger generations to plants is key. I’m realizing that my two year old has TONS of books about animals, but very few about plants! Okay, he does have “Botany for Babies” but that’s pretty nerdy. Maybe if there were board books with photos of different plants he would be able to identify petunias and peonies just as quickly as he identifies gorillas and cheetahs! Wandersee recommends having a plant mentor in your life, or perhaps you can be the mentor! I am encouraged by the huge uptick in interest around houseplants (if you didn’t know, houseplants are SUPER in right now) and what that will do to combat plant blindness. The work of volunteer programs like State Master Gardeners is doing a lot to help educate the public about the importance of plants and various plant societies and botanic gardens too.
So if you’ve been putting a lot of time and effort into your garden and are wondering why people aren’t knocking down your door to compliment you, it’s probably because they just don’t see it. Keep up the good work and little by little we'll help combat plant blindness!