Plant psychology

Seeing Green

I don’t normally buy gifts anymore. I stopped back when I was a young idealist with anti-capitalist ideas and long hair who, like Scooby-Doo, always emerged from a cloud of smoke. Urrr? If I ever give a gift, I insist on doing it when there is no birthday or holiday to celebrate, but only to please someone, without any obligation of convention.

Photo: Etsy.

In any case, I heard that godparents give gifts to their godchildren. I didn’t know about any of this, never having had a godfather or godmother myself. However, last year, I had the great pleasure of becoming the godfather of an adorable little girl. I take my role seriously, so I’m back in the gift-giving world until she’s old enough to go fishing with me (now that’s a real gift!) But until then, if I decide to give a gift, I’ll give it my way! The first gift I gave my goddaughter was a stuffed horse head (I’m a huge fan of the Godfather movie series, what can I say?)

You might be wondering where I’m going with all this?

For Christmas, my goddaughter received from me little wooden alphabet blocks. But, unlike the usual, the pictures on them were not animals or everyday objects that we usually use with young children to teach them vocabulary. They were flowers! No way my goddaughter will be indifferent to plants.

Plant Blindness

Plant blindness isn’t the inability to see plants, it’s a kind of indifference to plants. As far as I know, no one can see through leaves. Although plants are visible, they often go unnoticed or unappreciated. It’s also an ignorance of the role of plants in our daily lives or a belief in the inferiority of plants compared to animals.

Do you see a chipmunk or plants? Photo: negativespace.co.

Is It Really an Affliction?

Plant blindness has been a thing since the 1990s and studies have been conducted on the subject for the past 20 years. Although the phenomenon is not fully understood, there are several indications that it exists.

For example, it has already been established that humans can identify plants less well than they can animals. We also show less interest in plants than in animals and have less knowledge about them.

How many different plants do you think are in this picture of a green field? Photo: H-Karimi.

Multiple Causes: Biological and Cultural

It’s silly, but one of the reasons we’re indifferent to plants is because they’re green! When they are grouped together, rather than seeing individuals, we see a “wall of green.” Maybe they don’t want to be seen. It could be a survival strategy on their part. By blending in, humans avoid them. And you all know how destructive we can be. However, the bright colors of their flowers and fruits attract our attention. In these cases, we’re serving the plants, spreading their seeds with the wind, and the core of their fruits with our travels or our digestive system.

It doesn’t help that plants don’t move. As humans, we are instinctively inclined to follow movement. It’s a matter of survival. We shouldn’t forget that our brains have the innate ability to recognize faces, which plants don’t have. Perhaps we should make them wear masks? You can see that some of this indifference to plants is due to our biology, our eyes and our brain rather than a real lack of interest.

Another study shows that older people are less affected by botanical blindness, apparently because they do more nature-related activities. I’m not at all surprised given the amount of time we spend in front of our various screens.

Our increasingly urban lifestyle would also be a cause of this situation. Not only are we less and less in touch with nature, but we’ve also disconnected ourselves from food production, going instead through a network of farms, distributors and businesses to feed ourselves. This makes it difficult to observe the direct links between plants and our survival.

Research in plant biology is underfunded. Photo: NASA Kennedy

Consequences

You may wonder what difference this disregard for plants makes. In fact, plant blindness has real consequences.

For starters, most nature conservation efforts are directed at animals. The media will often produce content about protecting a natural area to save an endangered animal, but rarely will they do so for an endangered plant. There is also a decrease in biology courses in schools and a decrease in funding for plant sciences.

Yet, plants are the basis of our ecosystems and therefore of life on this planet. We must not forget the real benefits of nature in general and plants in particular, on human health and well-being.

Photo: Any Lane.


Becoming Aware of the Botanical World

So what can we do about it? If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably already aware of the vital importance of plants.

The easiest way is to simply maintain contact with plants: get a few houseplants; learn their names and how they work; work in your garden, however small; identify weeds before eliminating them (or simply keeping them!); set up a vegetable garden, even in pots; get closer to plants; but above all, remind yourself of their vital importance for our food and the beauty that surrounds us.

When you take a walk in your neighborhood or in a park, take the time to observe the plants you find there. Try to distinguish some of them in the middle of the “green wall”. There are many books and apps to help you identify them.

It’s crucial to do all this with children too. Studies have shown that children accompanied by adults who have hands-on experiences with plants will show more interest in vegetation and a better scientific understanding of flora as adults.


So, I started with alphabet blocks adorned with flower images. What am I going to get my goddaughter next? A Chia Pet? A children’s gardening tool kit? A fishing pole? So give me your suggestions for gifts that can help the children in your life become plant aware?

Mathieu manages the jardinierparesseux.com and laidbackgardener.blog websites. He is also a garden designer for a landscaping company in Montreal, Canada. Although he loves contributing to the blog, he prefers fishing.

11 comments on “Seeing Green

  1. Deep thanks for writing on this subject. Ever wondered why we have such wonderful brains and dexterous fingers? Plants. I know of no animal that can carefully handle and plant a seedling, lol. Once we did not have plastic packages to tell us when something could be eaten. We had 10 kids come to our garden and only two had ever picked a raspberry off the plant and eaten it. We need to know our plants…if things get really bad, knowing our plants could save our lives. I was reading an historical account of hardship (which we somehow think we are immune to…we are not), and the kids were so hungry they were out “grazing” in a field. I think plant knowledge and growing ability is one of the most fundamental, essential, and valuable skill a human can have…even though most of us now live in surreal urban constructs. We cannot get away from the human/animal/plant relationships.

  2. I applaud all of the comments and efforts to garden with a child. My thoughts are no child left inside!!! In the US, a professional gardener/horticulturist as I have been for 29 years….is a dying breed of human. Realistcally, it is hard sell profession (hot, dirty, cold, dirty, wears the physical body) but the rewards are amazing. Why does a young person want all of these habits when they can sit behind a computer, never meet a human other than across a screen, cell phone need or desire to learn about a plant? My glass is always 3/4 full, the tide will turn especially with well minded grandparents/godparents. I want a grandchild and sharing my knowledge will be my legacy. At this rate I may have to attempt growing a grandchild until my son find that special lady. I would love to know where you purchased the blocks with flowers? Loved the gifting idea, she’s a lucky lady to have such a godparent!

  3. I gave my grandson a small garden bag with small tools when he was one. He has also been watering with me since he could walk. There have been plenty of wet floors and decks but he now is very good at watering. Now three years old he gets his tools out as soon as he sees soil open up from the snow. I did make sure he could use it when I was gardening. We name every plant we see (if I know the name or we look it up) Houseplants, garden and in the woods. Have fun with this little one!

  4. You didn’t mention how close you lived to your goddaughter. It’s far better to do gardening activities with her than just send her stuff. If she is too far away to do things with her, one plant even a fairly young child can enjoy is one of those wax-coated amaryllis bulbs. It’s especially good to give before they are old enough to be disciplined about watering, and it won’t make a mess that will aggravate her parents.

  5. Many years ago some friends and acquaintances put in a chimney free of charge for me. While i appreciated their concern and hard work, i was amazed that they stepped right on shrubs that were planted in the area. Years later, some workman who was being paid to renovate my bathroom, threw a bucket of putty water on a forsythia i had planted a few years earlier. What’s wrong with these people? I guess the plants really are invisible!!!

  6. I get this constantly where I work for a few days weekly. Our crew includes professionals of all sorts, who maintain the infrastructure here. For example, we include a carpenter, an electrician, a plumber (normally), a painter, and so on. We all respect each other’s expertise. For example, I call the electrician if a tree falls into electrical cables. However, some of our crew have no problem cutting through vegetation that I put a lot of effort into, merely to get closer to what they are working on. I can not imagine anyone doing that to electrical cables, plumbing or walls. Only vegetation is disregarded in this manner, and sometimes very detrimentally so.

  7. Jane Donelon

    Don’t forget books! There are many wonderful garden board-books for toddlers, delightful ABC books and gardening stories for children of all ages. Walks to search for different colored flowers or a certain variety, finding bees, berries, acorns, fall leaves, etc, are always fun. When my grandson was about 4 or 5, he got to select the daylily of the day each day for indoor display. Neighborhood kids help pot , label , carry plants and do other jobs to help me each year for my annual plant sale. I really appreciate this help especially now that I am in my 80’s. Kids also love getting little plants to plant in their own gardens. I think you will discover that fun garden activities with children are endless.

  8. William MacMillan

    Children love to see a seed grow into a plant. If I remember, over 80 years ago, I grew a bean plant from just placing a bean seed on a wet blotter. I was fascinated and still grow plants in the spring to get a head start, mainly begonias which reward me with very beautiful flowers in the summer.

  9. My personal experience started with a simple small veragated airplane hanging plant. Many years ago working at Windsor Road Nursery in West Claremont N.H. Now, 50 (yes 50 !) years later my wife and i are absolutely house plant crazy surrounded by many plants that go out to the porch and garden area in spring and come back in each fall. As well as many that spend their life in the ground. Extreme? Yes ! Vermuch

  10. Time. I’d give her your time in the garden making compost, starting seeds, cutting flowers, etc. Hands in the dirt!

  11. I built my 10 year old step-son a 4×4 raised bed last fall. I took him to a seed swap where he picked out some seeds. I will teach him the winter Sowing in jugs technique soon and help him transplant the seedlings to his garden.

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