Green Vision Offers Cure for Plant Blindness
A colleague told me his toddler was wandering through a neighborhood park picking up twigs and sticks, brandishing them as tools for digging, poking and tapping. Suddenly the boy stopped and pointed excitedly to the canopy of branches above. “Look papa. Sticks come from trees!”
Mentally reconnecting fallen branches to their home on the trunk is obvious to an adult, but many of us have lost our profound sense of wonder about the interconnected web of life that surrounds us. This is especially true when it comes to the plant world.
Trees filter pollutants, absorb carbon dioxide, and breathe out life-giving oxygen, and plants provide food and medicine. However, most folks are largely oblivious to our photosynthesizing companions. This has led some researchers to examine “plant blindness,” a condition whereby we cannot see the forest or the trees.
In 1998, American botanists James Wandersee and Elizabeth Schussler defined plant blindness as “the inability to see or notice the plants in one's own environment,” which leads “to the inability to recognize the importance of plants in the biosphere and in human affairs.” This prognosis rings true in an age when most youngsters can identify hundreds of corporate logos and branded products but can’t name the plants and trees in their backyards.
Why are we suffering from a nagging case of plant blindness? There is no simple scientific answer, but Wandersee and Schussler argued that plants don’t capture our attention like animals and other stimuli. To the human eye, they are largely static. Thus we tend to lump plants together into a green backdrop, failing to distinguish between the millions of blades of grass or multitude of plant species.
Show someone a photo of a lush forest with a grizzly bear and ask what’s in the picture. Most will answer, “A bear.” Add a spotted owl to the scene and the response might become, “A grizzly bear under the watchful eye of an owl.” What you are unlikely to hear is a description of the flora accompanying the charismatic fauna.
Part of the problem may be related to the overwhelming amount of data our eyes send to our brains. Danish author Tor Nørretranders estimates that the human eye generates more than 10 million bits of data per second. Our brain extracts only about 40 bits of data per second, and only 16 bits reach our conscious vision and attention. Unfortunately, nature’s greenery tends to be drowned out in a visual flurry of noise and shinier items of interest.
Nørretranders also found that people who have had meaningful educational and cultural experiences with plants are more likely to notice greenery.
How do we reconnect with nature and learn to give plants their due? The answer is simple. People, especially kids, need to connect with nature in their everyday environment, and we need to bring more to our neighborhoods, public spaces and backyards. It might surprise you, but most urban spaces are already jam-packed with natural wonders.
After volunteering in an urban apple orchard at the Spadina Museum in Toronto, Laura Reinsborough began seeing the world through “fruit goggles.” Once she became familiar with fruit-bearing trees in the city, she suddenly noticed them everywhere—cherries, plums, crabapples, pears, grapes and walnuts. This largely untapped urban bounty spurred her to found Not Far From the Tree, a group that has organized volunteers to help harvest more than 14,000 kilograms of fruit from hundreds of backyard trees over the past four years.
If you want to help bring nature to your community, join one of the many groups working to enhance it. Local efforts to restore wetlands, forests, parks, and public spaces provide great opportunities to get hands-on outside time and boost your community’s natural wealth.
Earth Day, on April 22, offers an ideal time to get started by planting a tree or making your community cleaner and greener. In the Greater Toronto Area, check out the David Suzuki Foundation and RONA’s Urban Reforestation tree-planting event in the Rouge—the future site of what I hope will become Canada’s first urban National Park. For other nature-restoring events near you, see the listings on Earth Day Canada’s website.
Dr. David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author, and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Communications Specialist Jode Roberts.
Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.
At first glance, you wouldn't think avocados and almonds could harm bees; but a closer look at how these popular crops are produced reveals their potentially detrimental effect on pollinators.
Migratory beekeeping involves trucking millions of bees across the U.S. to pollinate different crops, including avocados and almonds. Timothy Paule II / Pexels / CC0<p>According to <a href="https://www.fromthegrapevine.com/israeli-kitchen/beekeeping-how-to-keep-bees" target="_blank">From the Grapevine</a>, American avocados also fully depend on bees' pollination to produce fruit, so farmers have turned to migratory beekeeping as well to fill the void left by wild populations.</p><p>U.S. farmers have become reliant upon the practice, but migratory beekeeping has been called exploitative and harmful to bees. <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/10/health/avocado-almond-vegan-partner/index.html" target="_blank">CNN</a> reported that commercial beekeeping may injure or kill bees and that transporting them to pollinate crops appears to negatively affect their health and lifespan. Because the honeybees are forced to gather pollen and nectar from a single, monoculture crop — the one they've been brought in to pollinate — they are deprived of their normal diet, which is more diverse and nourishing as it's comprised of a variety of pollens and nectars, Scientific American reported.</p><p>Scientific American added how getting shuttled from crop to crop and field to field across the country boomerangs the bees between feast and famine, especially once the blooms they were brought in to fertilize end.</p><p>Plus, the artificial mass influx of bees guarantees spreading viruses, mites and fungi between the insects as they collide in midair and crawl over each other in their hives, Scientific American reported. According to CNN, some researchers argue that this explains why so many bees die each winter, and even why entire hives suddenly die off in a phenomenon called colony collapse disorder.</p>
Avocado and almond crops depend on bees for proper pollination. FRANK MERIÑO / Pexels / CC0<p>Salazar and other Columbian beekeepers described "scooping up piles of dead bees" year after year since the avocado and citrus booms began, according to Phys.org. Many have opted to salvage what partial colonies survive and move away from agricultural areas.</p><p>The future of pollinators and the crops they help create is uncertain. According to the United Nations, nearly half of insect pollinators, particularly bees and butterflies, risk global extinction, Phys.org reported. Their decline already has cascading consequences for the economy and beyond. Roughly 1.4 billion jobs and three-quarters of all crops around the world depend on bees and other pollinators for free fertilization services worth billions of dollars, Phys.org noted. Losing wild and native bees could <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/wild-bees-crop-shortage-2646849232.html" target="_self">trigger food security issues</a>.</p><p>Salazar, the beekeeper, warned Phys.org, "The bee is a bioindicator. If bees are dying, what other insects beneficial to the environment... are dying?"</p>
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