Despite the importance of plants to people as foods, medicines, materials, fuels and fundamental elements of most habitats, people undervalue them. Plant blindness and botanical illiteracy, affect scientists seeking funds to carry out plant science research. Plant blindness is disinterest in and inattention to plans. Botanical illiteracy occurs when people lack basic skills and knowledge that enable engagement with botanical topics. There is scope for addressing both plant blindness and botanical illiteracy even through common plants by exploring their histories and properties.
Some research is investigating how to increase botanical awareness. One study found that exploration of plant defense mechanisms made plants more engaging for students. Another study found that colourful visual presentations of plants, and incorporating survival-relevant information such as edibility, toxicity and medical significance increased retention of information about plants.
Improving botanical literacy isn’t just a topic for classrooms, or exclusively about learning what botanists consider important. Plant science, in its varied forms, including taxonomy, phytochemistry and the cultural history of plants can connect with people in realms that are pertinent to them ranging from cultural studies, local foraging, foreign travel, gardening, and cooking, to a glass of gin and tonic. Here are a couple of examples of plants that can be interesting to people who aren’t botanists:
Essential for Hittite city cursing: seeds of desolation
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
When the Hittites conquered a city, the site was cursed to deter future occupation. A token amount of ‘marashanha‘ seeds were sown during the cursing ritual. Analysis of Hittite texts, linguistics, distribution and medicinal properties of fennel species, suggests that F. vulgare, used as a contraceptive and symbolic of barrenness, is likely to have been the plant referred to as ‘marashanha‘.
On Schedule 9, in Chinese medicine and expensive face cream
Japanese Knotweed (Fallopia japonica)
A vigorous plant that is considered to be invasive in some places Japanese Knotweed is one of the richest natural sources of Resveratrol, a plant polyphenol that features in many face creams. Resveratrol has also been found to have antibacterial, antifungal, anti -inflammatory, antioxidant, neuroprotective, and anticancer properties. Japanese knotweed has been used in traditional medicine systems for thousands of years.