Plant Blindness - a dangerous legacy


Plant Blindness

We are running out of specialists and scientists who recognise plants.  This has serious implications for the world and our environment.

A worrying report from the National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management in America reported that America is running short of people who can recognise plants. They are struggling to find specialists to deal with reafforestation after wildfires, basic land management and invasive plants.

So what is plant blindness?

In 1998, Wandersee and Schussler introduced this term.  They define plant blindness as “the inability to see or notice the plants in one's own environment, leading to the inability to recognize the importance of plants in the biosphere and in human affairs.”

They also point out that it is the inability to appreciate the unique features of plants and the misguided view that plants are somehow inferior to humans and animals, so less worthy of our consideration.

Wandersee and Schussler started a campaign to encourage more knowledge of plants in education.

They argue that this lack of knowledge about plants, this plant blindness, is due to educational bias. For example, educators may focus on teaching biological concepts about animals, rather than looking at plants.

Wandersee and Schussler also argue that part of this inability to see plants is due to the way that humans process visual information.  They found evidence that suggests that every second, our eyes generate about 10 million bits of data for us to process visually, but the brain only extracts approximately 40 bits from all that data and only about 16 bits come to our conscious attention. That shows that a great deal of information about the world around us is lost.

Wandersee says “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,….Plant blindness is the human default condition.”

What impact does this have on us?

As the information from America shows, we are running out of specialists who know how to repopulate areas with plants and forestry after wildfires or other environmental damage. We are running out of specialists who recognise different species of plants, who know what to do when invasive species come into an area, affecting other native plants and wildlife.  If an invasive plant takes over and destroys other plants within an area, this affects what is available for local insects and wildlife to eat. This can destroy the gentle balance of nature. 

Recognising plants is also important. Plants can be poisonous, they can cause harm.  For example, Giant hogweed is an invasive weed that can burn, scar and even blind people.

Human beings are part of nature too, we are animals too, and this can also impact upon human health and wellbeing, never mind the planet in general.

Plant Taxonomy

Taxonomy is a branch of science that focusses on scientifically classifying all existing organisms based on their characteristics for easy identification and study.

The biodiversity of the Earth is huge. There are thousands of species of animals and plants. It is hard to study all of them easily, so taxonomy will group plants and animals based on specific sets of characteristics.

Students can find taxonomy difficult and find it hard to learn everything about taxonomy, but taxonomy is essential for identifying plants and animals.

Taxonomy is essential because –

  • It helps us to classify all living creatures and plants.
  • It helps us determine how many species we have on the planet.
  • It helps us to determine the characteristics of plants and animals.
  • It gives us some idea of the development of the plant and animal, also the evolution of the organism.
  • It gives us an idea of local flora and fauna.

Anyone wanting to be a gardening expert or specialist in plants needs to know about plant taxonomy, identifying plants and their characteristics.

Would you like to learn more about plant taxonomy?

Would you like to train your staff in plant taxonomy?

We offer a 20 hour self-study distance learning course in Plant Taxonomy.  This was developed by our highly experienced horticultural writers and tutors.

Find out more here.