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Why so many people suffer from ‘plant blindness’

Plant blindness is a well-evidenced lack of interest in and awareness of plants in urban societies.

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(Cast Of Thousands via Shutterstock)

By Gwyn Wright via SWNS

Many people are suffering from "plant blindness" because they don't spend enough time in the great outdoors, suggests a new study from the UK.

The phenomenon is defined as a lack of awareness and appreciation of native flora.

And many people today don't understand plants well enough because they simply don't spend much time outside, say scientists.

They explained that humans are not naturally bad at understanding flora, but our busy way of life limits our interactions with the natural world.

Plant blindness can be “cured” by activities that put us in close contact with plants - such as wild foraging, said the research team.

They say there is a common misperception that plants are ‘less alive’ than animals, and that the cure to so-called ‘plant blindness’ is to let people go to biodiverse places which will change their perceptions of how useful plants are.

Plant blindness is a well-evidenced lack of interest in and awareness of plants in urban societies, compared to animals.

People’s understanding of flora improves when they have frequent interactions with plants that have direct relevance to their lives.

For the study, researchers from the University of Exeter and University College London read 326 articles published in academic journals between 1998 and 2020.

Most of them showed people were more interested in and paid more attention to information about animals than plants.

No evidence was found to indicate that this is an innate human characteristic.

Instead, it seemed to be caused by our diminished experience of nature in urbanized societies.

The authors say a decline in relevant experience with plants leads people to become more and more inattentive to them.

This can be addressed through first-hand experiences of edible and useful plants in local environments.

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“People living in highly industrialized countries have a plant attention deficit." (Maples Images via Shutterstock)

Studies showed it was common for children, especially young ones, to view plants as inferior to animals and not to be able to identify many species.

A disparity in plant awareness was reported in teachers as well as students, particularly in primary school teachers who had not studied science at university.

Older people had a better understanding of plants, which is thought to be because they were more likely to have nature-related hobbies.

Modernization or urbanization was found to have had a negative impact on plant knowledge in 35 studies.

Our increased reliance on urban services and cash economy means plant foraging is less intrinsically useful to us.

Going to work and school also reduces the time we spend in the natural environment.

Those factors also reduce the time we spend with family, meaning grandparents do not pass on as much knowledge about plants to their grandchildren.

Study author Dr. Bethan Stagg, of the University of Exeter, said: “People living in highly industrialized countries have a plant attention deficit due to a decline in relevant experience with plants, as opposed to a cognitive impediment to the visual perception of plants.

“People living in rural communities in low and middle-income countries were more likely to have high plant knowledge due to a dependence on natural resources.

“Interestingly, economic development does not necessarily lead to this knowledge being lost if communities still have access to the biodiverse environments.

“The key is to demonstrate some direct benefits of plants to people, as opposed to the indirect benefits through their pharmaceutical and industrial applications, or their value to remote, traditional societies.

“The level of botanical knowledge in younger generations is shown to be directly related to their perceived usefulness of this knowledge."

She added: “Wild plant foraging shows considerable promise in this respect, both as a way of introducing people to multiple species and connecting them with some ‘modern-day’ health, cultural and recreational uses.”

The findings were published in the journal Plants People Planet.

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