Plant blindness, or the lack of attention to plants as active agents in ecosystems, may seem to be a harmless ignorance. However, its consequences are directly related to the current state of environmental deterioration.
Plants have been of crucial importance to maintaining ecological processes of the planet Earth as well as for sustaining cultures and societies around the world. Plants themselves are complex, sensitive organisms that employ intricate signalling strategies to monitor, adapt to, and benefit from their environment.1 Baldwin, Ian 2015. Plant Science: Rediscovering the Bush Telegraph. Nature 522: 282–283. ,2 Ryan, John C. 2012. Passive Flora? Reconsidering Nature‘s Agency through Human-Plant Studies (HPS). Societies 2(3): 101–121.
However, despite their complexity and the central role in functioning of the living world of the planet, in Western society plants have been habitually marginalised and described in neutral collective terms, such as, e.g. landscape or agriculture, a tendency which is symptomatic of a wider phenomenon of plant blindness.
In his book Plants as Persons: A Philosophical Botany, Matthew Hall observes that “most places on Earth which contain life are visibly plantscapes”.3 Hall, Matthew 2011. Plants as Persons: A Philosophical Botany. Albany, NY: SUNY Press. p. 3 Indeed, plants comprise the major part of the Earth‘s biomass4 Bar-On, Yinon M.; Phillips, Rob; Milo, Ron 2018. The Biomass Distribution on Earth. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 115(25): 6506–6511., being of crucial significance to maintaining the planet‘s environmental balance and ecosystem stability.5 CBD (Convention on Biological Diversity) 2010. Global Strategy for Plant Conservation 2011–2020 [online]. Retrieved from: https://www.cbd.int/gspc/intro.shtml
Thinking on the larger temporal scale, plants feel much more on home ground on the planet Earth than any animal species that ever existed. “If millions of years could be measured in meters” – state Gagliano, Ryan, and Vieira – “the history of plants would equate to a 500-meter-long walk, while ours would be no more than a few centimeters”.6 Gagliano, Monica; Ryan, John C.; Vieira Patrícia (eds.) 2017b. The Language of Plants: Science, Philosophy, Literature. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. vii.
Yet even this tiny footprint of the human species on planet Earth is profoundly embedded in the vegetal world – it is impossible to comprehensively approach the history of any cultural or social formation without simultaneously considering the history of plants.
Nevertheless, in the conceptual framework of the Western cultures, plants, for the most part, have habitually been overlooked and considered no more than a trivial backdrop for daily human practices and activities.7 Aloi, Giovanni (ed.) 2018. Why Look at Plants?: The Botanical Emergence in Contemporary Art. Leiden: Brill. ,8 Marder, Michael 2013. Plant-Thinking: A Philosophy of Vegetal Life. New York, NY: Columbia University Press
Botanists and biology educators James Wandersee and Elizabeth Schussler9 Wandersee, James H.; Schussler, Elizabeth 2001. Toward a Theory of Plant Blindness. Plant Science Bulletin 47(1): 2–8. once argued that these tendencies to marginalise plant forms are symptomatic of a wider phenomenon of plant blindness – the inability of humans to distinguish and appreciate plants as active agents in the ecosystems.Continue reading