As a person who comes from a family with farmers, I learnt a lot about plants and taking care of them from a young age. I was always encouraged to weed out the garden, water the seeds, and to help harvest the vegetables. My grandparents were also keen on teaching me how to distinguish between plants simply based on the shape of their leaves. This initial exposure is what gave me my curiosity about the environment around me. I find it interesting to learn about the various plants that are native to Ontario and the role they play in sustaining our ecosystem. Much to my dismay, I found that most people my age are not particularly interested in building an understanding of the vast greenery Canada has, which is concerning for the environmental future of our country.
Can you recall a time when you took a walk or hike outside, surrounded by nature? Now ask yourself if you remember seeing a lot of greenery. If you answered yes, do you think you can name more than three different species of plants that you saw? Reality is that most people are unable to name and recognize the various kinds of plants that are native to their land. Hence, they would be referred to as ‘plant-blind’.
In 1999, a term called ‘plant-blindness’ was coined to bring to light a major problem in American culture and education. Plants are regarded as background scenery instead of vital living things that contribute towards the sustainability of our ecosystem. Compared to education provided on animals for children, plants are mostly grouped into one big section of ‘green thing’. Take a quick minute to reflect on your own schooling as a child. Do you recall learning how to name various animals and insects by the time you were in grade 1, but only recognizing flora as either a tree, grass or flower? I for one found that most of my early schooling was animal-based, providing me with little knowledge on the diversity of plants.
Being plant-blind has significant ecological impacts. Primarily, plant-blindness prevents us humans from building a connection with the flora in nature. This disconnect is seen predominantly in people living in developed countries. Urban dwellers do not typically include plants in their daily lives, unlike animals. It is not often that people in cities see a wide variety of plants and could interact with them through activities like gardening or hiking. However, the sustainability of the environment and ecosystem depends on the harmony between human life and plant species.
The basic science knowledge that plants provide us with oxygen to breathe and intake carbon dioxide is known to all, but plants are needed for much more than that. Plants provide habitats, food, and contribute towards creating the necessary temperature for the diversity of animals to thrive in various places in our world. Some plants are only found in certain locations in the world, and all are unique in color, shape, reproducing method, and behavior. When we disregard the importance of building connections with plants, it’s that much easier to cut them down for our own selfish benefits. We risk the loss of biodiversity on our planet.
So what can you do to cure your plants-blindness? Start small by building a relationship with a plant. There is no need to jump into building a big garden right away. Instead, choose one plant and start taking care of it. This can be something less demanding like a succulent. Once you start watering it and tending to its leaves, you will start to learn about what that plant needs in order to thrive. Slowly, you can grow your garden by adding another kind of plant to your collection. Overtime, look at how much you have learnt and gained from tending to plants in your home. Take a walk around your local park and take the time to notice how trees have different shaped leaves and flowers have different sizes and scents. It is only through active engagement with the surrounding nature, can we hope to become more observant and in tune with our environment.