'Plant blindess' is a real thing: why it's a real problem too

3 days 21 hours ago
South African Tourism/Flickr

If you lived in London at the height of William Shakespeare’s fame, in the 15th century, you probably knew a fair amount about plants. The famous playwright often alluded to potions and poisons derived from plants, and most of his audience would have recognised them. By comparison, research has shown that most modern Londoners can’t name more than a few wild flowers.

This is true of most people in most cities in the world.

There’s a name for this inability to notice or recognise plants in one’s own environment: “plant blindness”. Part of the reason for this is that urban dwellers have been separated from nature; there’s a disconnect between us and the environment, and we’re blind to the natural world around us.

Two botanists, James Wandersee and Elisabeth Schussler, have proposed that our inability to see and notice plants is because they lack visual attention cues. They don’t have a face; they don’t move in the way that animals do; and they aren’t threatening. Our eye-brain system and the visual cortex filter out so much “data” from what we see daily that most of the visual information about the plants we see is discarded.

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