If you tap the average person on the shoulder and ask them if they’ve seen a plant today, they’d probably say ‘yes’. After all, with the greenification of our towns and cities in recent years, chances are that something green and flowery is bound to be spotted on a quick amble. However, if you ask that same person what kind of plant they saw, you may be met with a blank expression. On the other hand, if you ask someone if they saw an animal today, they might say they saw a bird, dog or (probably with a look of wild excitement) a fox prancing its way across a road last night.
‘Plant blindness’ was coined as a term by botanists Wandersee and Schussler in 1999 to define the ‘inability to notice plants in their environment and a failure to recognise and appreciate the utility of plants to life on earth coupled with a belief that plants are somehow inferior to animals’.
Whether we like it or not, humans tend to affiliate with animals more than we do plants – unless you are a hobbyist or professional in the plant world. It’s far easier for the average person to conjure up an image of a fox in their heads than it is a rudbeckia, even if they’ve only seen a fox a handful of times and walked past a blooming rudbeckia every day on their way to work.
Why do humans suffer from plant blindness?
There are two reasons why plant blindness exists in our world today.
Don’t worry, you can give yourself a bit of a break. If you find that you can’t really differentiate between plants, it might be because humans actually group green things together.
The human eye sees green better than any other colour. This is because the ‘cones’ in our eyes (photoreceptor cells) process waves of light, and these waves match up to colours on a spectrum. The colours we perceive best are blue, green and red – green being in the middle. Because of its position in the spectrum, humans can perceive green shades better than they can other colours.
However, because our brains can be a bit lazy, instead of using this incredible vision to differentiate plants, we actually group them together. Each individual plant becomes lost in a sea of green.
Consumerism and convenience
Centuries ago, many humans hunted, grew their own food, chopped wood to burn on their fires, and spent much more time outside than we do today. This meant that our ancestors had a much deeper connection with nature, and most likely would have been able to identify flowers, trees, and fruits and vegetables more accurately than today’s average person.
In the 21st century, there isn’t much need to go outside unless we really need to (for example, to take a mental health walk or go to a place of work). Our groceries can be delivered to our doorsteps, many office-based jobs can be conducted from home, we can video call our friends and family instead of travelling to visit them, and we can consume entertainment from our TVs and smartphones.
Listen to The Plant Based Podcast episode with Frank Giustra, co-founder of The Million Gardens Movement, to find out more about how we can easily grow our own food:
As time has passed and consuming any sort of product or service has become more and more convenient, so have humans lost touch with nature. There’s actually a name for this. It’s called ‘nature deficit disorder’.
This isn’t recognised as a mental health condition, but it refers to the idea that humans are spending less time outside than they do inside, and how this results in behavioural problems. The idea is heavily criticised, with some saying that it overlooks dysfunctional cultural practises, and only a small amount of research has been conducted into the effect of nature deficit on children’s mental health.
What can you do to cure nature deficit disorder?
Whether or not we’re giving it a name, if you find that you’re disconnected to nature and are struggling to affiliate with plants and other natural elements, the best thing you can do is to get outside!
Here are some activity ideas for you, and some further reading:
- Forest bathing – find out more here
- Go for a daily walk around your area and make mental notes of the flora you come across
- Plant photography – you don’t need fancy equipment, just your phone!
- Foraging – start off with plenty of research and perhaps go on a course, and don’t eat anything unless you’re absolutely sure that it is safe
- Take a holiday away from urban areas
- Read about native plants, then search for them in your local area
- Replace unnecessary scrolling with time spent outdoors, such as sitting in your garden for five minutes
- Grow your own – if space allows, grow your own ornamental plants or produce (find more articles about ‘growing your own’ here)
Are you guilty of plant blindness? Take my quiz below to find out.