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Shakespeare, plant blindness, and electronic media

Frank M. Dugan
Plant Science Bulletin 2016 v.62 no.2 pp. 85-93
cognition, communications technology, knowledge, lifestyle, rural areas, students, teachers, urban areas, weeds, wild flowers
“Plant blindness” is lack of botanical awareness. In Shakespearean London, knowledge of plants among the general public can be characterized as extensive. Allusions to dozens of wildflowers, weeds, and plant-derived potions were immediately understood by Shakespeare’s audiences. By comparison, in modern London, a published study showed that secondary level students, graduates, and a substantial portion of biology teachers, could scarcely recognize ten common wildflowers. Eight of these ten are referenced in Shakespeare, and all appear in British folklore. This comparison of historical versus contemporary plant knowledge in a given locale appears unique, but studies focusing on comparisons of contemporary rural versus urban environments are available. Both categories of comparisons support the conclusion that contemporary urban life promotes plant blindness. Disconnection from agricultural and natural environments (“nature deficit disorder”), not zoocentrism, is likely responsible for “plant blindness.” Electronic media with botanical themes offer one potential venue for re-establishing awareness of plants.