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Harringay, Haringey - So Good they Spelt it Twice!

If I asked you to describe a fox or a pigeon, chances are you'd have no trouble doing so.

What about if I asked you to describe shepherd's purse, sow thistle, or greater celandine (all currently growing in gardens or the street just a few feet from me)?  How about the trees on your street? How many of them can you confidently identify?

Four years ago I would have struggled to name any but the most recognisable of plants: rose, lavender, birch tree, fuchsias etc. As for the tiny plants that push up through the cracks between garden walls and streets, I'm not sure I'd have got much beyond dandelion. Volunteering as an environmental educator at Railway Fields changed that and I began to be able to identify more and more urban plants and trees, thereby beginning my "plant blindness" cure (and deriving an enormous amount of pleasure from even the shortest of walks even if I do get some funny looks from time to time due to my habit of staring at weeds)

Does it matter if you can't tell your lesser celandines from your wood anemones?  Many people think it does, as increasingly humans suffer from a nature deficit at a time when we need as many people as possible to engage and care about the planet, as much for their own physical and mental health as for the health of the Earth.

The article linked to below outlines why we struggle to care about plants and why it matters if we don't. It also suggests ways to overcome your plant blindness

Give it a read

Tags for Forum Posts: nature notes, plant blindness, plants

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Interesting points. It saddens me that so many people don't know the names of basic plants garden or wild. This also extends to trees. Even stuff growing on farmland wheat barley turnips etc evince not the slightest interest... 

The idea that plants, gardening, and horticulture are somehow not valuable has a real knock on effect for the economy, food security and the environment. Going into these areas is seen as a less prestigious career path and are not particularly valued by schools and colleges, despite the incredibly interesting and exciting jobs that can come out of studying plants and soil.  

The RHS campaign Horticulture Matters couldn't come at a better time. Maybe too late for me sadly, but I'd encourage any child or young person to consider a career in horticulture. 

I had a sow thistle omelette washed down with nettle tea after a gardening session this week - it's amazing how much of this stuff you can eat or use medicinally. But you do have to be able to identify it properly.

I agree that people should know more about the natural world around them but fox and pigeon are the animal equivalents of dandelion and daisy, which most people would know!

Indeed you are no doubt correct that most people can describe a daisy and probably a dandelion. Yet the three plants I named (all growing outside my house at the moment more profusely than dandelions or daisies) are undoubtedly as common as they are and yet I imagine far fewer people could ID them. This is “plant blindness” - the inability to “see” the pavement plants, the street trees, the plants in the hedgerows.

I doubt there are many people who couldn’t name any flowers. A 2018 poll by the RNB saw the very recognisable sunflower top the list of favourite flowers which is a lovely flower much adored by squirrels and insects and birds alike but people enthusiastically plant daffodils in every patch of ground even though in terms of usefulness to insect life they are way down the list. Roses are given pride of place in gardens despite having little use as insect food. A border of hollyhocks would be infinitely preferable.

I think it goes back to a point I know I hammer out ad nauseum (sorry) - people don’t care so much about what they can’t name and as people’s nature vocabulary shrinks so does the chance that they will value the small and ubiquitous as much as the showy and cultivated, but the small and ubiquitous is usually what sits at the bottom of their food chain.

I’m extremely heartened by the campaigns to get people to love dandelions and daisies and leave them in their lawns. Now let’s get them to love the red and white clover too! 

Incidentally here is a list of gardening goals written by Dave Goulson (the bee professor) http://www.sussex.ac.uk/lifesci/goulsonlab/resources/flowers 

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