What is Plant Blindness?


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Usually, when someone takes a walk in the woods and spots a deer or a squirrel, that will be the highlight of their walk. Even with all the flowers, plants, and trees, people see while hiking, there’s a good chance they paid minimal attention to the greenery they pass by. This is what researchers call plant blindness.

U.S. botanists Elisabeth Schussler and James Wandersee interpreted that the term’ plant blindness’ meant “the inability to see or notice the plants in one’s environment.” Due to plant blindness, people usually think of animals to be superior to plants as they don’t acknowledge the importance of plants in human affairs and the biosphere. Also, plant blindness is a factor of the declines in university botany programs, herbaria, and other plant science facilities.

Even though life ultimately depends on the existence of plants, they often fade into the background of conservation efforts. Kathryn Williams in the University of Washington’s Conservation says, “I wonder how the world would look if more people, instead of seeing a wall of green, say individual plants as a potential medicine, a source of food, or a loved part of their community.” Williams and her team conducted a study in 2016 to find out whether evolution hardwired people to ignore plant life and what it means for conservation efforts. They found out that plants only receive 4% of endangered species funding even though plants make up 57% of the endangered species in the U.S.

Researchers found that the reason for the bias for animals over plants is because of several factors. One factor comes down to the old adage “out of sight, out of mind.” Plants don’t move as well as they blend together visually. This leaves plants at a disadvantage to conservation efforts as people are tuned into motion and if they don’t notice the foliage in the environment, they usually are less inclined to care about it. Another factor in choosing animals over plants is because of education. Educators generally use animals instead of plants for example of basic biological concepts which makes children grow up with more empathy and familiarity toward animals. When children grow up in an animal-centric biological education, they won’t develop an interest in plant-related careers.

The most significant issue of all is that the world depends on plants. Research in plants is essential for more scientific breakthroughs. Currently, more than 28,000 species of plants are used medicinally for anti-cancer drugs and blood thinners. In a world where there is a rapid growth in the younger and aging population, this kind of research is increasingly important.

Also, many of today’s challenges are plant-based. Some problems that urgently need to be faced are global warming, food security, and the need for new pharmaceuticals to fight against diseases. Unfortunately, across the world, plant biology courses are diminishing in popularity— some shutting down completely.

Plant life is crucial for the survival of all life in the world. With a decrease in popularity, there’s little hope of resolving these problems. Hopefully, more people will take an interest in this area of study so these issues won’t worsen.