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What You SEE Outdoors: Combating "Plant Blindness"

I'm not talking about blind plants. They don't have eyes, silly!

Did you know that the flower you're looking at might be a trillium plant? Did you know trillium plants can live for up to 25 years and that it's illegal to pick it in some places? Or it could be a bloodroot flower. Did you know that the bloodroot flower was once thought to cure cancer but later found to cause cancer? Maybe you're looking at my dear old friend skunk cabbage (story for another day...). Did you know that the skunk cabbage actually has a purple flower with very large petals? Did you know that you could also be looking at a cactus plant that is totally native to the area?

When experts talk about plant blindness, they are talking about looking at "nature" and seeing the animals and perhaps "a lot of plants" rather than the incredible plant diversity that is actually there. It's the tendency to overlook plants, to barely notice that they are there. Basically, it's seeing the forest for fauna and forgetting the flora. Conservationists consider plant blindness to be a large hurdle in gaining appreciation and funding.

I recently had the most amazing tour of the New England Wildflower Society's Garden in the Woods, which is in Framingham, MA, by my plant expert sister. She works at Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware and knows SO many completely FASCINATING facts about plants. It seems like she has an entire portion of her brain dedicated to plant knowledge. She had never visited Garden in the Woods but nonetheless knew seemingly every flower and endless information about each.

We discussed how I had been "plant blind" (actually all of nature blind) until my 20's. I grew up knowing I liked nature without understanding the complexities of it. I spent a good amount of time outdoors, so I feel like my life could have been enriched if my plant blindness had been "diagnosed" earlier! Unlike my sister, I'm no expert. Rather, I'm simply interested in plants. I don't yet have a memory for plant names or facts. However, I do know enough to have an immense appreciation. And that is what I hope to pass on to my daughter. Our next generations need to enjoy and appreciate the complexities of nature and how we are part of nature. It's crucial for ecological harmony and survival.

If you don't have your own personal plant expert guide, I still recommend a trip to Garden in the Woods! It is a "living museum" of native plants in a natural setting. The main path is stroller friendly, and there are also a few trails to explore. The grounds feature multiple types of habitats, and the biodiversity represented is impressive. Plus, it's serene and beautiful! There is even a children's activity area to explore.

If you have older children, I have a few recommendations to increase their interest and interaction with the "living museum". These activities will also help combat that plant blindness from an early age!

1. Make a game of finding the largest and smallest flowers in the garden. You can formalize this (and integrate some measurement) by using a tape measure, or you can just explore informally.

2. Similarly, make a game of finding plants in all the colors of the rainbow. I recommend taking a photo of each plant, so you can look back on the variety at the end of your visit.

3. Play "eye-spy" with your child as you explore. Try to use age appropriate plant terms and characteristics as you do so. For example, "I spy a plant with a flower that has large yellow petals." or "I spy a plant with a flower that has long purple stamens."

4. The garden proudly displays cards of each of the plants that are currently in bloom (as seen in the picture behind me and little wike baby). You can take a photo of the cards in advance of your wike and see how many of them you can spot. At the end of your wike, revisit the board and count how many you saw.

There are tons more activities to do and games to play as you enjoy Garden in the Woods. What are your ideas? Share your ideas and any other thoughts about Garden in the Woods and plant blindness in the comments below!


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