Four common wild-grown plant species: a) bramble, Rubus fruticosus, b) dandelion, Taraxacum officinale, c) ivy-leaved toadflax, Cymbalaria muralis, and d) ivy, Helix hedera.

By Veronica Wignall, Nicholas Balfour, Sam Gandy, and Francis Ratnieks

This Plain Language Summary is published ahead of the article discussed; please check back for a link to the full paper.

Despite their ecological value, people do not appreciate or even dislike many common native wild flowering plants. This antipathy has received little research attention despite the pressing need to reverse pollinator declines via a societal shift towards greater awareness of these plants and recognition of their ecological value.

There are, however, multiple challenges to changing public attitudes. Evidence suggests that public knowledge of common wild flowering plants is limited, or selective. Low societal awareness of common wild flowering plants is likely symptomatic of a diminishing human connection to nature in recent decades. The common phenomenon of ‘plant blindness’, an inability to notice or appreciate plants, distinguish among species, or recognise their importance, may reinforce this societal disconnection from nature. A further factor may be a societal focus on rarer plant species, since these are often the focus of conservation goals. The public also tend to conflate weedy native wild flowering plants with invasive non-native species.

While people may overlook many species of wild flowering plants due to a lack of awareness or knowledge, it is evident that some are actively unpopular. Negative perceptions of spontaneously growing plants may arise simply because they are uninvited and represent the wild and untamed, for example in gardens. Many perceive wild-growing vegetation negatively due to its irregular growth or untidiness. There is also evidence to suggest that human innate aesthetic preferences may affect flower preference, including their colour.

We suggest that there are many ways to explicitly increase appreciation of these plants among a wide section of society, and that it is both necessary and timely to do so. Several studies suggest that effective education and communication within educational settings, and integrating active engagement with nature within curricula, can engender greater appreciation of common wild plants. Lastly, improved media, business, and environmental organization messaging and citizen science schemes could also help to reframe attitudes and recognition of the ecological value of wild plants.

Engendering greater awareness and appreciation of common wild-growing plants has the potential to greatly improve floral resource availability for pollinators, enhance biodiversity and simultaneously benefit human physical and mental wellbeing.