Plant Blindness: Our Unintentional Disregard for Flora
 Posted on May 24th, 2019 by

Written by Taylor Mac, Madisyn Plumhoff, Julie Terrone, and Lydia Brekke

“Plant blindness is the inability to see or notice the plants in one’s own environment.” (Ro, 2019)

Why Does ‘Plant Blindness’ Occur?

Our brains detect differences in the world in a formidable fashion, favoring wildlife such as animals with higher rates of recognition than plants. Author Christine Ro wrote an article on BBC Future, titled Why ‘Plant Blindness’ Matters and What You Can Do About it. As inferred from the title, the article talks about a phenomenon called “Plant Blindness,” which is referred to as “the inability to see or notice the plants in one’s environment.” There have been additional pieces of evidence that have surfaced since 1998 when the term, “Plant Blindness” was coined by Elisabeth Schussler and James Wandersee. So why does our brain favor animals over plants? Well, the higher rates of recognition of animals can be due to plants being more challenging to distinguish. This challenge to recognize them as easily occurs because they hardly move, grow together, and are often similar colors, unlike animals. Though this is not entirely a bad thing, thanks to evolution our retinas have become relatively developed, as they can transmit about 10 million bits of visual data. This is important because, with the help of our optical system, we can filter out non-threatening things like plants, which is the reason for “Plant Blindness” in humans.

Interestingly, we do not see this phenomenon only in humans, but in other animals like some species of specialist insects. In a study by Bernays and Wcislo in 1994, they observed “plant blindness” in how well specialist insects foraged for food compared to their generalist counterparts. As a result, it was observed that this specialization and selective behavior helped these herbivores make faster and better feeding decisions when focusing on foraging for a single plant while ignoring others. If insects become “plant blind” to help increase food intake and survivability, are we doing the same? Does it help improve our odds of finding food? While exploring the different attentional behaviors experienced in humans, we hope to answer these questions.

Factors That May Attribute to the ‘Plant Blindness’ Phenomenon

Visual Search

To further understand plant blindness, it’s also important to understand what visual search is. Visual Search, a visual activity engaged in on a daily basis, can be categorized into two specific types of behavior. One which is exploratory search and another that goal-directed search. These two behaviors are easily distinguished in the environment as they are used for different behaviors. In goal-directed search, using stored search routines to gather information in a purposeful way is characteristic of this mode while on the other hand, exploratory search happens when multiple pieces of information are presented though, there is little stored knowledge on what to do with the information picked up. For it’s difficult to connect directly, a speculative cause for this plant-blindness could be due to the increase of devices prevalent in our lives. We now spend more time using goal-directed search vs exploratory search when connecting with nature because we are unable to successfully integrate multiple forms of information due to the goal-directed search behavior exhibited in technology. Visual search also seems to incorporate change blindness and inattentional blindness to why we end up ignoring plants.

Change Blindness

In addition to understanding visual search, other attentional processes are also important. Change blindness certainly applies to plant blindness, as a significant part of the issue of plant recognition is our lack of ability to notice the change in foliage over time. For example, if you were to walk outside into a field of dandelions that is outside your house, you are unlikely to notice the new dandelions that have appeared or any that have decayed since you were last in the field. Change blindness causes us to miss changes to large visual scenes, which can often happen when examining the foliage around us. Since plants tend to look so similar, as far as color and shape, we tend to miss the additive or subtraction of a plant from a scene. This only aids in our plant blindness, since we are already accustomed to ignoring plants and the changes they experience regularly.

Inattentional Blindness

The idea of the ‘plant blindness’ phenomenon does have a specific aspect that works, specifically when thinking about inattentional blindness. Inattentional blindness is the idea that when we are focused on one thing in our visual world, we fail to notice other things that are happening around us, especially unexpected things. Because of the idea of inattentional blindness, the ‘plant blindness’ phenomenon may work. With this idea, even if we are outside with everyday interactions with plants, we may still have ‘plant blindness’ because plants are continuously changing, and we may not notice it. If we are focused on one part of the plants, we still might not see the change of another plant that is right in front of us. There are so many plants to look at outside, and we can only visualize and focus on so much, that we will miss the change in the plants that we are not focused on. Even if we try to spend more time outside with plants and are more aware of them, we will still fall victim to ‘plant blindness’ because of inattentional blindness.


Plant blindness comes with a variety of factors that can impact our willingness to maintain plant conservation. Due to factors such as visual search, inattentional blindness, and change blindness, we can see why this phenomenon can occur. Although there are scientific explanations for plant blindness, that does not give us the excuse to continue ignoring plant life around us. The importance of becoming less plant blind is obvious, and steps need to be taken for plant conservation to progress in full.



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Nieuwenstein, M. R., Potter, M. C., & Theeuwes, J. (2009). Unmasking the attentional blink. Journal of experimental psychology. Human perception and performance , 35(1), 159–169. doi:10.1037/0096-1523.35.1.159

Raymond J. E., Shapiro, K. L., & Arnell, K. M. (1992). Temporary suppression of visual processing in an RSVP task: an attentional blink? Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 18, 849–860.

Dukas, R., & Kamil, A. C. (2001). Limited attention: the constraint underlying search image. Behavioral Ecology, 12(2), 192–199. doi:10.1093/beheco/12.2.192

Ro, C. (2019). Why ‘plant blindness’ matters- and what you can do about it. Retrieved from


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