It's important not only to stop and smell the roses, but also to take a really good look at them, says a Wilfrid Laurier University professor who believes people suffer what from she calls plant blindness.

Frédérique Guinel, a biology professor and vice president of the Canadian Botanical Association, said plants are living organisms that move, respond to their environments and even communicate with each other.

The association is holding its annual conference at Laurier this week, with the theme this year being "The Hidden World of Plants."

Guinel says plant blind syndrome, in which humans fail to see, notice and appreciate plants, is a real thing.

"I was talking with a friend yesterday and she said, if you were bringing a picture today of a dog running in a field and show the picture, people would see the dog, people would totally ignore the grass in the field," Guinel told CBC Kitchener-Waterloo's The Morning Edition on Wednesday. 

Frédérique Guinel

Frédérique Guinel, a biology professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, says it's important to respect plants. (Wilfrid Laurier University)

"And I think we do that everyday. We pass along trees. We see students grabbing leaves, grabbing branches, not thinking about actually, there is an organism here. There is a living thing."

Botanists have defined plant blindness as not seeing or noticing plants in the surrounding environment, a failing that in turn leads to a failure to acknowledge the importance of plants in the global ecosystem and in world affairs.

It also means failing to appreciate the special beauty and biological features of plants and seeing them as secondary in importance to animals.

Guinel said it's important to look at plants because of the crucial role they play in sustaining human life on the planet. Plant material is found in clothing and housing, she said.

"We are living because of plants. We are breathing the oxygen that they release. They are capturing the carbon dioxide which we do not want in our atmosphere because we are already releasing too much," she said. 


'We are living because of plants,' Frédérique Guinel says. (CBC)

"We are eating them. We are constantly depending on them. Therefore, we should look at them. Stop and look around you and see what is around you. They are living organisms. Respect them."

Guinel said plants move in a variety of ways. There is movement of sugar up and down inside plants, inside cells, and when they turn towards the sun. She said there is very obvious movement with touch sensitive plants, which will close when touched by human hands.

"We can see movement if we stop," she said.

She said plants also respond to their environments. They are "constantly on the lookout," and through their roots, they sense drought, salinity, water, too much or not enough nutrients in the soil.

And plants, although they do not talk, communicate in very subtle ways through molecules, signals and receptors, she said. For example, she said she has done research in the area of roots, fungi and bacteria, and scientists know that plants are constantly sending things out through their roots. 

tree branch blossoms kitchener

Spring blossoms adorn a tree under sunny skies downtown Kitchener. (Gary Graves/CBC)

"You have a signal, like in radio, you have a sensor, it's going to send a signal, and from that binding of the two things, there will be something happening and it's a response. So it is communication," she said.

Paying attention to plants means being grounded. If humans fail to see or notice plants, they miss beauty and lack connection, she said.

"When you see a tree, and you look really at that tree, it is a magnificent thing," she said. "You miss a sense of belonging because you should be ground to the earth and you should sense that you are part of that."

With files from the Morning Edition