“Plant blindness” is defined as the failure to appreciate the fundamental
importance of plants. To address this phenomenon, we created the Pet Plant
Project (P3) where students grow an unknown plant from seed, monitor
development, and relate lecture concepts to their plant on a daily basis. A
qualitative survey was administered and analyzed to evaluate student responses
to the experience. Themes in the analysis, identified across 209 student-participants at Tennessee Tech University, included positive reinforcement of
lecture material, a new-found appreciation for plants, responsibility and pride
related to plant care, a continued desire to grow plants, and more. Statistical
results included: 73% of students noticed plants more after the project; 76%
planned to grow plants in the future; and 68% made a connection with their
own plant that bolstered engagement in course materials.
Key Words: botany; plant blindness; pet plant; undergraduate education.
It is well known that students generally find animals more interesting than plants (Baird et al., 1984; Wandersee, 1986). Plants are
often neglected in textbooks (Darley, 1990; Hershey, 1993, 1996;
Uno, 1994), with comparatively little emphasis in high school
standards and curricula relative to zoological material. Over time,
this has resulted in a widespread condition referred to as “plant
blindness” (Wandersee & Schussler, 1999), where an individual
fails to notice plants or recognize their importance to the world.
The implications of plant blindness are far reaching: generations
of teachers and students are botanically illiterate (Hershey, 1996;
Gagliano, 2013), resulting in the devaluation of plants as they relate
to environmental sustainability, public health, and the economy
(Tomescu, 2009; Balding & Williams, 2016). Yet plants and other
photosynthetic organisms form the foundation for life on earth, and
failure to acknowledge their biological significance will result in
dire consequences for the health of the planet and our species.
Given the potential implications of continued plant blindness,
how do we best reverse its progression? In the past decade, plant
blindness has come to the forefront of pedagogical discussions in
scientific communities (Strgar, 2007; Balas & Momsen, 2014;
Ebert-May & Holt, 2014; Gimma & Burgess, 2014). The symptoms
of plant blindness may have a physiological component that stems
from how the human brain perceives its surroundings (Wandersee
& Schussler, 1999; Balas & Momsen, 2014). As a result, learning
approaches that are most likely to be effective will (1) make plants
relevant in students’ daily lives, (2) engage multiple senses at once
(e.g., visual, touch), and (3) build on previously learned information to create deeper connections (Uno, 1994, 2009; Balas &
Momsen, 2014). Several articles describe methods to increase the
interest of young children in plants (e.g., Lindemann-Matthies,
2002; Fančovičová & Prokop, 2011), yet hands-on classroom
activities at the high school or college level are relatively limited.
Wandersee et al. (2006) published a writing template designed to
identify a person’s unique “Botanical Sense of Place” by linking
plants to particular places or activities they remember from childhood. Another approach has been to georeference plant species or
create floras of university campuses to encourage student interaction
with plants (e.g., Pettit et al., 2014; Struwe et al., 2014).
These activities aim to show young adults why they should care
about plants and how plants affect their daily lives. Yet even if students are convinced that plants are fundamentally important, making botanical lessons interesting to them is another challenge.
Plants are so fundamentally different from animals that it is difficult
for students to relate to them in a meaningful way (Hershey, 1996;
Balas & Momsen, 2014). Maintaining student interest while covering topics such as plant anatomy, morphology, physiology, and
reproduction requires special effort. In searching for an effective
means to relate abstract course material to students in a large-format introductory botany lecture/laboratory course, we created
the Pet Plant Project (P3) where students grow an unknown plant
from seed to maturity over the course of a semester.
The American Biology Teacher, Vol. 80, No 5, pages. 339–345, ISSN 0002-7685, electronic ISSN 1938-4211. © 2018 National Association of Biology Teachers. All rights
reserved. Please direct all requests for permission to photocopy or reproduce article content through the University of California Press’s Reprints and Permissions web page,
www.ucpress.edu/journals.php?p=reprints. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1525/abt.2018.80.5.339.
THE AMERICAN BIOLOGY TEACHER PET PLANT PROJECT
L E A R N I N G The Pet Plant Project: Treating
Plant Blindness by Making Plants
• SHAWN E. KROSNICK, JULIE C. BAKER,
KELLY R. MOORE