As you walk around the zoo, you’ll easily spot the incredible number of animals (21,314 to be exact) at Chester Zoo! But while you explore the zoo, do you notice how many plants you’ve seen? Are you plant blind?
We have a staggering 25,000 plants at the zoo and over 2000 different species. Be reassured though, you’re not the only one that doesn’t notice the plants surrounding you; this phenomenon is so widespread that it’s actually been recorded scientifically and even has a name: ‘plant blindness’!
A couple of researchers from America defined ‘plant blindness’ in 1999 in The American Biology Teacher. They said that plant blindness is:
“the inability to see or notice the plants in one’s environment”
They also explained it as the ‘inability to recognise the importance of plants’, being unable to appreciate the ‘aesthetic and unique biological features of the life forms that belong to the Plant Kingdom’ and ‘ranking of plants as inferior to animals’ and therefore seen as ‘unworthy of consideration’.
Symptoms of plant blindness according to their study includes believing that plants are just a backdrop for animal life and failing to notice plants in one’s daily life among many other symptoms. Researchers have hypothesised that one of the explanations of this bizarre phenomenon is linked to the fact that people usually know less about plants than animals making it harder to recognise them and value them.
The fact that plants don’t move is also partly responsible for plant blindness, as our brains literally filter out objects that aren’t different enough from their background; making plants easily disappear from our consciousness.
The implications of plant blindness are massive in the conservation world and trigger a global disinterest for the endangered botanical world. Australian researchers from the University of Melbourne even reported in Conservation Biology that plant conservation initiatives ‘lag behind and receive considerably less funding than animal conservation projects’.
At Chester Zoo, conservation is at the heart of everything we do! We want to bring the incredible but often unnoticed green world to the fore. The Australian study showed that immersing people in the world of plants enhances their capacity to detect, recall and value plants, reducing plant blindness.
With this idea in mind, we decided to bring you Wild Worlds, a festival like no other that aimed to put the spotlight on the secret lives of plants within the zoo. Connecting visual and sound artists with our Horticulture and Botany team brought to life The Awekids Grassland Village, a vibrant and playful audio-visual walkthrough. This space allows you to delve into the worlds of our National Plant Collection of orchids, cacti and nepenthes and delivers an unforgettable multi-sensory, awe-inspiring delight!
By revealing the fascinating and hidden lives of our plants, we are promoting empathy with the botanical world which has been shown ‘to promote positive emotional connections with plants’ according to Australian researchers Mung Balding and Kathryn Williams.
Going even further, we also wanted to showcase the unique relationship that animal species have with plants. We worked with environmental artist Kerry Morrison and artist Helmut Lemke to bring to life a Honey Bee Garden. In addition to displaying the world of those fascinating animals, the garden is also highlighting the fragile balance of their relationship with plants. With meadows disappearing across the country, bees and pollinators, in general, are left without the diverse food sources they need pushing some species towards extinction.
You’ll also notice across the zoos three intimate Victorian-style peep shows. Go get a close-up view and discover What the Botanist Saw, through this series of nine intimate animations showcasing the secret lives of plants. We dare you not to be surprised and delighted at what will be revealed in front of your eyes!
We’re inviting you this summer to dive into the wonders of the plant world and take a step towards curing your ‘plant blindness’! Join us for this one-of-a-kind celebration and explore our exclusive Wild Worlds, book your tickets today >