What is the last animal you saw? Can you remember its colour, size and shape? Could you easily distinguish it from other animals?
Now, how about the last plant you saw?
If your mental images of animals are sharper than those of plants, you’re not alone. Children recognise that animals are living creatures before they can tell that plants are also alive. Tests of recall also show that study participants remember pictures of animals better than images of plants. For instance, one US study tested “attentional blink” – the ability to notice one of two rapid-fire images – using pictures of plants, animals and unrelated objects. This showed that participants more accurately detected images of animals than plants.
This tendency is so widespread that Elisabeth Schussler and James Wandersee, a pair of US botanists and biology educators, coined a term for it in 1998: “plant blindness”. They described it as “the inability to see or notice the plants in one’s own environment”.