My husband occasionally plants trees as part of his job. All over the world. Is he an international arborist? No, he's an engineer by trade, a corporate VP who is often present at new facility openings, when trees are planted to help dedicate the building.
Back in November when I was learning about the future trends and issues of horticulture at a symposium in frigid Minnesota, he was planting a tree in India. One of the topics at the symposium was "plant blindness". The speaker joked that one type of plant blindness happened when her husband let one of her houseplants die while she was out of town. She asked him about the dead plant when she returned and he asked "which one?"
Naturally when my husband told me about the dedication tree he planted in India, I asked, "what kind?"
"Uh, a nice tree", he responded. I sighed, "Oh no, plant blindness" and preceded to tell him about this horrible affliction suffered by so many. He said, "Wait a minute, it was a palm tree." Good save, dear. In fact, he then told me about the strings of colorful chrysanthemums that decorated the hallways of the new building for the ceremony. Bonus points.
However, an alarming number of people cannot identify even the most common plants that populate their communities. Move beyond roses and daisies and most people cannot name the plants they encounter during their day-to-day migrations between work, school, shopping, etc.
Sad, but true that for so many, plants are just the background screen to their lives; green blobs that form background noise, wallpaper, whatever you want to call it. Why is this?
Modern man doesn't have to rely upon correctly identifying berries, before he eats them from a plastic container, to avoid being poisoned anymore. We are removed from the multitude of plant-based decisions and processes that used to confront our ancestors.
When I walk the streets of Savannah, my southern home away from home, I feel guilty if I see a plant I don't recognize. But not everyone feels this strongly about plant identification. I get it, people are busy.
While kids can name animals from a young age, they fail, or we fail them at plants. Why is this? People tend to be "zoo-centric", granting animals more importance than plants. After all animals roar and sing, pounce, swim and fly, plants by comparison, just sit there.
Children's literature is weighted heavily toward animals. For every "Jack and the Beanstalk" there are a hundred more Curious George and Hungry Caterpillar-like stories. Peter Rabbit's foray into Farmer McGregor's garden, Miss Rumphius scattering her lupine seeds, and the wily critters of "Tops and Bottoms" can hardly compete.
When grandparents are more likely to take their grand-kids on a Disney cruise than simply take them along to pick beans in the garden, another link to the natural world is lost. How can plant blindness be prevented?
--Take kids to parks, zoos (many label their plants) and botanical gardens and learn five new plants every time.
--Encourage kids to research and identify plants in their own backyards, a botanical scavenger hunt.
--Plant a veggie garden and grow your own food, it's awesome the first time a kid pulls a potato from the dirt. It's also awesome the next time too.
It is said we can't care about something if we can't name it. Plants shade us, nourish us, clothe us and provide fascinating beauty. The least we can do is learn their name.