Changing the Conversation About Plants

Matt Candeias, In Defense of Plants

Plants are undeniably the most important organisms on Earth and yet, so few people pay them much attention unless they are attractive or useful in some way. This phenomenon is commonly referred to as “plant blindness,” and it is one of the largest hurdles to overcome if we desire a healthier planet. For the first time since they conquered the land, plants are experiencing unparalleled rates of extinction. Faced with an uncertain future defined by massive and rapid environmental change, we can no longer afford to ignore the botanical world. To succeed in saving plants, it is important to inspire people to care about them. To do so, I believe that we must let go of utilitarian speaking points forged decades ago and instead, foster a new-found respect for plants as living, breathing, fighting organisms upon which all other forms of life depend. This, I feel, is the role of science communication. Our society does not suffer from a lack of scientists, it suffers from a lack of understanding and appreciation of science. We must strive to take our scientific understanding of the world and share this knowledge with more than just our colleagues. Distilling scientific discoveries, often only shared within the academic community, into narratives centered around biology, ecology, and evolution can inspire the public to look at plants in a whole new light. Though these narratives are often stories of doom, gloom, and hopelessness, we must remember to also showcase conservation success stories. People need to understand that there is something worth fighting for. Plant-based conservation stories are not only interesting, they also have the power to connect people with a variety of biological interests because plants influence all forms of life on Earth. From microbes to megafauna, botany is a common thread in the narrative of life. Finally, we need to engage the public with more than just words. People need to have a stake in healthy plant communities and what better way to invoke a sense of stewardship than to let people play a role in conservation. This talk will explore my experiences with science communication through the In Defense of Plants blog and podcast including some lessons I have learned over the years.

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