We Have A Plant Ignorance Problem

September 6, 2018

Editor: If you went to the hospital to have your appendix removed, you would hope your surgeon wouldn’t take out a lung. But that’s what’s happening in the world of nature where not only the average person — but even trained professionals and biology profs — can’t tell lopseed from loosestrife. And that’s categorically what we don’t want: Our botanists unable to tell invasive giant hogweed from its smaller look-alike native cousin, cow parsnip, when working on pest-plant eradication. Organizations like the National Park Service can’t find enough scientists who know enough about, say, invasive plants, to deal with them effectively. Without a doubt the leading cause is our national obsession with indoor activities, from texting and Facebooking to TV binging to generalized couch potatoing. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average American spends 87 percent of their life indoors, then another 6 percent of their life in automobiles. A study released in May found that about 25 percent of Americans hardly ever venture outside. Hard to know a plant if you never see a plant. I asked Dr. Kenneth Klemow, professor of biology and environmental sciences at Wilkes University, what he thought about our plant ignorance problem. “Perhaps we need to ask how much knowledge is needed. Perhaps we want people to have a functional knowledge of plants, mammals, fungi, birds, fish, etc., to allow them to enjoy nature, recognize the biota that surrounds them, and appreciate the threats that biodiversity is under,” Klemow said. That sounds wonderful. And it’s something that can be achieved if the proper resources are enlisted and if we start emphasizing the importance of botanical knowledge. But then I stumble across a survey conducted by the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy that revealed 7 percent of American adults think that chocolate milk comes from brown cows and come to my senses. Bob Quarteroni SWOYERSVILLE

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