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ARS Home » Pacific West Area » Pullman, Washington » Plant Germplasm Introduction and Testing Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #327773

Research Project: Management of Plant Genetic Resources and Associated Information

Location: Plant Germplasm Introduction and Testing Research

Title: Shakespeare, plant blindness and electronic media

item Dugan, Frank

Submitted to: Plant Science Bulletin
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 7/26/2016
Publication Date: 7/29/2016
Publication URL:
Citation: Dugan, F.M. 2016. Shakespeare, plant blindness and electronic media. Plant Science Bulletin. 62:2.

Interpretive Summary: 'Plant blindness' (a pedagogical term indicating lack of awareness of plants) is the result of a long-term decline in botanical literacy. Knowledge of plants among the general public in Shakespearean London can be credibly characterized as extensive. Allusions to dozens of wildflowers, weeds and plant-derived potions were immediately understood by Shakespeare's audiences. By comparison, in modern London, a published study showed that secondary level students, graduates and a substantial portion of biology teachers, could scarcely recognize common wildflowers referenced in Shakespeare. Disconnect from agricultural and natural environments ('nature deficit disorder'), not zoocentrism, is responsible for 'plant blindness.' Electronic media have displaced nature as primary sources of knowledge as urban has replaced rural, and as media technologies have replaced agriculture as principle sources of livelihood. In the absence of consistent exposure of urban populations to rural environments, plant blindness will be substantially mitigated only with production of electronic media containing scientifically sound, plant-based themes and strong appeal for urban adolescents.

Technical Abstract: Use is made of a published (2005) survey of botanical literacy in modern London: Ten very common wild flowers (ragwort, cow parsley, foxglove, red campion, germander speedwell, primrose, lesser celandine, common dog violet, common daisy, and greater plantain) were seldom recogonized by A-level students (equivalent of high school seniors in USA) or A-level graduates, and not consistently recognized by biology teachers. The same ten plants are present in British ethnobotanical lore, and eight appear as allusions in Shakespeare's plays. Robust consensus in scholarly literature indicates the level of knowledge of plants and plant products in Shakespearean London enabled audiences to readily understand Shakespeare's botanical allusions. Modern Londoners have, by comparison, much more limited botanical awareness of these same ten very common plants. It is concluded that 'plant blindness' (a pedagogical term indicating the inability of modern urban persons to perceive the importance of plants) does not result from zoocentrism (a bias in favor of perception of animals), but in separation of modern urban populations from nature and agriculture ('nature deficit disorder'). Plant-based themes should be incorporated into video games and other electronic media targeting adolescents, but this will require funding and innovation.