Green Ghosts: Why You Should Care About Plant Blindness

Have you ever stopped to look at the plants on our massive campus? I know I didn’t, at least until I started thinking about “plant blindness” — a phenomenon where we fail to notice the plants and the green spaces around us. As a boarder who lives in Abbot, I would walk to breakfast every morning, passing by a variety of trees and shrubs without really seeing them. When I started paying attention, I realized how much I was missing. 

Phillips Academy is home to a wide range of plants, from towering pines to delicate mosses, each with their own sense of uniqueness and character. Yet, even with their beauty, most of us walk past these plants without a second thought. Why is that? And what are the consequences of our plant blindness?

When we think about plant blindness, it’s important to recognize that it’s not limited to our campus; it’s a widespread phenomenon in many urban and suburban areas. In our fast-paced lives, we often become so absorbed in our thoughts or preoccupied with our daily routines that we overlook the natural beauty that surrounds us. The trees and green spaces on our campus, which provide shade, shelter, and a sense of tranquility, often fade into the background of our busy days. 

It’s a peculiar irony that as humans, we can accomplish remarkable feats in the realms of technology and science, yet often fail to acknowledge the truly impressive presence of the very environment in which we exist. This dichotomy is brilliantly highlighted by Gabriel Popkin, an educator and tree enthusiast, in his thought-provoking article, “Cure Yourself of Tree Blindness.” Popkin astutely points out that many of us, despite being highly educated and accomplished individuals, often possess a surprising lack of knowledge when it comes to the trees that surround us. In his article, he remarks, “My students are nearly all highly educated, successful people who work impressive jobs, speak multiple languages and effortlessly command sophisticated computers and phones. Yet most know barely the first thing about the trees around them.” This quote encapsulates the disconnection we experience between our technological prowess and our awareness of the natural world. It serves as a poignant reminder that even with all our intellectual and technological advancements, we can still find ourselves oblivious to the trees that stand right in front of us. Perhaps it’s time for us to bridge this gap by peeling our eyes away from screens and redirecting our attention to the living wonders that coexist with us on this planet.

Now, let’s take a moment to delve deeper into the fascinating world of trees, for they are not just ordinary plants that populate our campus but rather some of the most extraordinary and awe-inspiring living beings we encounter every day. Consider their longevity, for instance. Trees have witnessed the passage of time in ways that few other organisms can comprehend. One such witness of time’s journey is the majestic “Great Elm Tree” that stands tall and proud in the center of campus. Trees have silently witnessed the shifting tides of history and the ever-changing landscapes of campus. Moreover, trees are not merely passive participants in our ecosystem; they are the backbone, the very life force that sustains the delicate balance of nature. As you might have learned in your biology class at Andover (and if you haven’t, I strongly encourage you to do so), trees play a vital role in creating and maintaining healthy ecosystems. They act as purifiers, filtering the air we breathe, absorbing harmful pollutants, and releasing oxygen into the atmosphere. They provide habitat for countless species by offering shelter, nourishment, and a thriving ecosystem within their branches, trunks, and roots.

But it doesn’t end there. Trees are also master communicators, engaging in complex underground networks where they exchange nutrients, warnings, and even support one another in times of need. Their intricate relationships with other organisms, such as mycorrhizal fungi, create a web of interconnectedness that promotes the well-being of the entire ecosystem. It’s a harmonious symphony of life unfolding right before our eyes if only we take the time to observe and appreciate it.

So, the next time you find yourself strolling through our expansive campus, pause for a moment and let the magnificence of the plants sink in. Allow yourself to marvel at their ancient wisdom, their contributions to the environment, and their interconnectedness with all living beings. In their silent majesty, plants offer us not just shade and beauty but a profound lesson — a reminder of the intricate and delicate tapestry of life that surrounds us, waiting to be explored.