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Being Seen: A Need for Native Plant Conservation

The inability to see plants leads to the undervaluing of plants and their importance to life on earth.  Alleviating plant blindness through the re-establishment of peoples’ knowledge of, and relationships with, plants is vital to both human and ecological communities. In an article in BioScience, William Allen (Oct. 2003) stated, “…if most people don’t pay attention to plants and the fundamental role they play in maintaining life, society isn’t likely to agree that plant conservation is among humanity’s most crucial issues,…”  Even when native plants are seen, the question most commonly asked is: “Is this a good plant or a bad plant?”  Plants are neither good nor bad – they are living beings that have co-evolved with many other beings from bacteria to birds, mycorrhizae to mammals, other plant to insect pollinators.  They are wild life, just like our conventional idea of wildlife.  By learning from these floristic beings, we may begin to more fully realize a new age of wildlife conservation that embraces the intrinsic values of plants, the myriad interrelationships within which plants are vital partners, and a landscape-level understanding of fantastically messy and totally awesome ecological systems.  Decades of habitat loss and degradation, plant blindness, and climate change have created a precipitous crisis.  Last year, The Guardian reported: “The number of plants that have disappeared from the wild is more than twice the number of extinct birds, mammals and amphibians combined” (D. Carrington, 10 June 2019).  Yet: “In almost every area of conservation, policy and law, plants receive inferior protection, attention and funding (Native Plant Conservation Campaign website).  Native plants are wonderful, wild and sometimes woolly forms of wildlife that are foundational in earth’s ecosystems.  Their conservation is essential for the continued maintenance of ecological resilience and flourishing.

By Brenda R. Beckwith PhD