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Plant blindness and sustainability

Howard Thomas (Institute of Biological Environmental and Rural Sciences, Aberystwyth University, Aberystwyth, UK)
Helen Ougham (Institute of Biological Environmental and Rural Sciences, Aberystwyth University, Aberystwyth, UK)
Dawn Sanders (Institutionen för Didaktik Och Pedagogisk Profession (IDPP), Goteborgs Universitet, Goteborg, Sweden)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Article publication date: 20 January 2021

Issue publication date: 6 January 2022




The present paper aims to examine the concept of “plant blindness” in the context of current sustainability debates. “Plant blindness” was the term introduced in 1999 by the botanists and educators James H Wandersee and Elisabeth E Schussler to describe what they saw as a pervasive insensitivity to the green environment and a general neglect of plants on the part of biology education.


The fundamental importance of plants for life on Earth and the socio-educational challenges of redacted awareness of this importance are considered. Also, the diverse physiological, psychological, philosophical, cultural and geopolitical origins and consequences of indifference to plants in relation to aspects of sustainability agendas are examined with special reference to education.


An examination of the outcomes of a range of research and practical initiatives reveals how multidisciplinary approaches to education and public engagement have the potential to address the challenge of “plant blindness”. The need for these opportunities to be reflected in curriculums is not widely appreciated, and the socio-economic forces of resistance to confronting plant neglect continue to be formidable.


Plant blindness is a relatively new field of research, and the full breadth of its implications are only gradually becoming apparent. If the present paper contributes to positioning plants as an essential element in sustainability education and practice, it will have met its objective.



This paper forms part of a special section “Navigating Paradoxes in Sustainability Education”, guest edited by Adriana Consorte-McCrea, Nicola Kemp and Stephen Scoffham.


Thomas, H., Ougham, H. and Sanders, D. (2022), "Plant blindness and sustainability", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 23 No. 1, pp. 41-57.



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