Jun 19, 2019 | Updated: 09:31 AM EDT

Plant Blindness May Lead To Disastrous Consequences

May 04, 2019 05:25 PM EDT

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Plant Blindness is a form of cognitive bias, which in its broadest meaning, is a human tendency to ignore plant species.

Reflect back on the last animal you saw. Can you remember its colour, size and shape? And can you distinguish it from other animals? Now, how about the last plant you saw?

You know that you have seen a plant before you were asked, but your brain didn't mentally keep a record of it because it's not used to. If your mental images of animals are much sharper than that of plants, then you are not alone. In fact, there was one test conducted in the US called "attentional blink." It was aimed at checking the most memorable identification of objects including both plants and animals. The test revealed that the participants were more likely to name the animal they saw that the plants that were shown to them.

This tendency has become so widespread that two botanists -- Elisabeth Schussler and James Wandersee -- coined the term "plant blindness" in the study they conducted in 1998. They described it as the "lack of human ability to notice the flora available in their environment." Sadly, plant blindness results in the lack of appreciation of plants, which then leads to a lack of interest in plant conservation efforts.

"Humans only recognize the things that they know," Schussler said referring to the fact that most people don't know the type of plants that surround them. This is a problem and something needs to be done to address it. "Plant recognition is essential to plan conservation as the latter matters to environmental health," Schussler added.

More importantly, the two biologists emphasized the importance of plant conservation to overall human health. Plant research does not only help identify the existence of plant species in a given area, but it can also strengthen the continued search for plants that can be used for their medicinal components. In fact, there have been several studies that look into possibly developing plant-based medication to address cancer treatment as well as blood thinning problems.

Experimenting on plants also promotes a rather ethical advantage over the other forms of testing including the much talked about animal testing. Given how crucial plant life is to the survival of the human race and the world, how did people end up suffering from "plant blindness?"

The challenge in keeping plant species from being extinct is magnified. With less effort exerted on such project, it won't be too long until some plant species become wiped off the planet even before their benefits to humans are recognized. Building an emotional connection to the ecosystem including both plants and animals may be the only way to save species from total extinction.

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