Plant Blindness

I recently read an article about "plant blindness" -- a term I had never heard of before. It is a rather interesting concept; plant blindness is, via Wikipedia definition, "a form of cognitive bias, which in its broadest meaning is a human tendency to ignore plant species [in one's environment]". The article touches on different aspects of plant blindness: from younger kids being able to easily recognize animals but not plants, to how plant blindness is essentially built into our human biology. The author also mentions a few scientific studies and cites some conservation statistics. I found one of these statistics to be especially powerful:

"[I]n 2011 plants made up 57% of the federal endangered species list in the US. But they received less than 4% of federal endangered species funding."

Let's be honest - it's easy to go through life ignoring plants. They are stationary, they are all pretty much the same shade of green, and, on the surface, seem to offer very little to us. People often associate plants with "dirtiness" or something that needs to be "cleared out" -- essentially clustering most wild plants into one category: "weeds".

I, too, never really paid much attention to the plants in my surroundings up until the last year or two. Growing up in the suburbs, I wasn't exactly exposed to many forests or natural areas in my childhood and I definitely possessed the "they're all just weeds" mindset.

About four years ago, I switched to a vegetarian diet to lower my personal environmental impact, remove myself from animal-agriculture-driven deforestation, and to adopt a healthier and more compassionate lifestyle. My interest in plants 'sprouted' as my diet expanded to include more leafy greens, fruits, beans, grains and other veggies. Eventually, I switched to a completely plant based diet two years ago, and around the same time, I completed an internship studying the plant diversity at a local stormwater basin that was constructed to prevent the surrounding neighborhoods from flooding. My interest in plants began to deepen immensely.

Since I always had an interest in "going green" or helping mitigate the effects of climate change, I developed a particular interest in trees. I learned the importance of our forests in regulating our Earth's climate, biodiversity, and nutrient and water cycles, as well as their remarkable ability to sequester carbon dioxide in the carbon-carbon bonds in their wood.

Regardless, a year or two later, I love exploring forests, finding new trees or other plants, and reading about them. Plants have much more to offer than initially meets the eye. They have history - some plants are native, and some are dispersed around the world by humans for various reasons (food, beauty, etc). The same plants that were intertwined with Native American cultures, plants with medicinal properties, or edible plants are probably growing in your backyard right now. Invasive plants, like the Tree of Heaven, may have originally arrived across the pond for their beauty, but now have spread across the country, forever altering local ecosystems.

I could go on and on. If anyone is reading this, I'd love to see what your thoughts about "plant blindness" are. Why do you like plants? What do they offer to you? Do they help you find peace within yourself?

Publicado por conboy conboy, 18 de junio de 2019

Comentarios

I like your thought process here. I've had a similar experience with growing up in the suburbs, all plants are weeds, etc. My diet is mainly vegetarian as well. I'll go fishing every so often here (Montana) and I don't have any issue roasting a fish over a fire in the backcountry, as far as impact goes it's probably less than the lettuce shipped from down south. However my plant blindness definitely waned as my diet shifted more and more to plant based. My interests turned to natural edibles found in my area, and each time I ventured out into the woods I would see more plants it seemed.

It makes me a little sad to see the impact one can have with their eating habits, more than just the direct effects, but the effects not so easily measured, like the connectedness with one's surrounding natural landscape. How many areas could we change or protect for the better just by getting people to open their eyes and see the variety in their area? How many lives could we enrich by helping people see what is all around them all the time, edible plants, medicinal herbs, so much potential!

I too could probably go on and on about this, but this hardly seems like the place. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, it inspires me to get out and do a little bit more with my community.

Publicado por jonesey441 hace casi 3 años (Marca)

A just dragged my 12 year old son out for an hour and made him use the iNaturalist app. We live in the woods along a creek in a natural paradise. Funny I did notice how he couldn't see how many different plants there were right in front of him. I plan to get him off his xbox and spend an hour outside everyday and combat this blindness, just so at least he is a little bit aware!

Publicado por mainphoenix hace casi 3 años (Marca)

@mainphoenix Great job getting your son out there to explore! :)

Publicado por conboy hace casi 3 años (Marca)

Great journal entry, Andrew - I had just heard this term this week but I’d experienced it long before (I work in a state wildlife agency where the more ‘charismatic’ species get more attention). I think iNaturalist is a tool that we can use to combat this, even if it means ‘gamifying’ some of the outdoor exploration.

“What is the extinction of a condor to a child that’s never seen a wren?” INaturalist is a great way that we can show others just the amazing amount of plant biodiversity and truly charismatic plants that share this planet with us. :)

Publicado por sambiology hace casi 3 años (Marca)

Thanks a lot, @sambiology ! How could I forget to mention iNat in my post? My friend showed me iNat about 10 months ago, and I've pretty much been addicted ever since. As you mentioned, iNat makes it so easy to learn and it has helped me notice much more of the biodiversity in my surroundings. It is such a great tool!

Publicado por conboy hace casi 3 años (Marca)

I really appreciated reading this journal entry since I can relate so closely to it. I don't think plant blindness is exclusive to those raised in suburban or urban areas. I grew up in a relatively rural area in Maine, surrounded by forest, spent nearly every day out in the woods hiking, and I too was plant blind. I could recognize maples and oaks and birches and pines, but never took much time to differentiate the species within them, let alone the hundreds of small plants scattering the plants underfoot.

I've been a vegetarian for over ten years now and that didn't make much of a difference in my plant blindness either. As a biology major, I was still plant blind. I even took botany and - guess what - still pretty plant blind! My botany class even made me resent understanding and identifying plants (just because the professor was the only professor or teacher I've ever had that I truly did not like, but that's a different story). It wasn't until I downloaded iNaturalist that I felt incredibly overwhelmed by the plant diversity around me. I can't even walk a hundred feet on campus without thinking "okay, I'll have to come back here, there are too many species to photograph in an hour."

I was just thinking about plant blindness (though I didn't know there was a term for it until now) when I came across your post and felt compelled to comment. Great writing! Thanks for posting!

Publicado por savannahm1 hace más de 2 años (Marca)

Thank you for sharing your story, @savannahm1! iNaturalist definitely has broadened my interest in nature and has made those otherwise "hidden" plants much more noticeable for me as well! Here's to learning more about what's around us :)

Publicado por conboy hace más de 2 años (Marca)

Thanks for the thought provoking entry. Plant blindness is, unfortunately, common in the U.S. because of lack of education and attention at a young age. The education standards expect high school students to understand the chemistry related to photosynthesis, yet they are not expected to identify or understand the characteristics of the plants around them. Ecology needs to be more important! I am working on an education certification to teach in Buffalo, NY. I will get students interacting with their local environment.

I have found some helpful resources during my research: one being iNat. Another resource is "In Defense of Plants" (http://www.indefenseofplants.com/) This website posts so many articles about botany, ecology, chemistry, ongoing research, and much more. They also have a fantastic podcast! Their overall goal is to cure plant blindness.

Publicado por mrbrunner hace alrededor de 2 años (Marca)

Thanks, @andybrunner! That is a great point - I wish I had been introduced to the plant world in my middle school or high school years. Thank you for stressing the importance of ecology and nature in your teaching. I think people would be much more appreciative of nature if they are immersed in it early on in their lives.

Thanks for the link to that website! I'll check it out. :)

Publicado por conboy hace alrededor de 2 años (Marca)

I have noticed "plant blindness" in other people before, although I had never heard the term before now. I have been interested in plants (much more than in animals) for some time. Many times I have pointed to a plant and asked someone older, "What is this?", and they just say the same thing: "That's just some plant." or "That's just some weed." (as if I couldn't have known that already). It has been very frustrating.

I don't entirely know why I like plants so much. They embody life, vibrancy, lushness, and plenty. In general, I think the color green is soothing and calming. They are necessary for life, and I appreciate that quality. In one way, they could be viewed as less dangerous than animals. They don't stalk you or chase you down and kill you with sharp teeth and claws.

Publicado por differentdrummer hace más de 1 año (Marca)

Thank you for sharing that @differentdrummer. I totally agree - most people just categorize most plants into the “just a weed” category.

Publicado por conboy hace más de 1 año (Marca)

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