Ask a horticulturist or plant lover how they became interested in plants, and most will mention a person—someone in their life growing up who taught them about plants, someone who was an avid gardener, or a plant lover that inspired them to study horticulture. A person who teaches others about plants has been called a PLANT MENTOR (Lewis, 1996), someone who guides a young person to really see plants—not take them for granted—and understand their wonder and importance in human life. Plant mentors appear to be critical for teaching the next generation about the value of plants in nature and how we as humans need to care for and interact with plants.
Who was your plant mentor? Mine was my mother’smother, Rena Anderson, whose calamondin orange still grows in my living room, now a 50-year-old plant, every year or so producing enough oranges for marmalade. The fact that my dad was a science teacher and that I grew up on a third-generation family farm certainly helped.
With less than 20% of the population living in rural areas, young people today grow up in an urban environment, rarely exposed to natural areas with “wild plants” and places to play with plants. Add technology, and today’s young person is even further removed from interaction with plants. This is a problem for horticulture, and for all the sciences that involve plants.
As you think about your plant mentor, ask another question: for whom have you been a plant mentor? Hopefully, you can respond with your immediate family and a lot of students or young people! You may not realize it, but it is likely you have mentored many people. We all should be better plant mentors, talking about the wonder of horticulture, especially to young people, and telling them how many different facets of horticulture there are for them to study. We need to make a conscious effort to talk more about plants, especially to young people who have no idea about the wonder of the art and science of horticulture.
The more removed kids today are from plants, the less they realize the careers that await them in horticulture. We hope to change this with the National Initiative to promote and advocate for horticulture. At the ASHS Annual Conference in Orlando, we will have a workshop on the initiative and the company selected to do the work will be there to take part in the conference and learn from all of you about what you think needs to be done to promote horticulture.
Lewis found that a plant mentor did not have to be the child’s mother (1996), while Wandersee and Schussler (2000) reported “early experiences in growing plants under the guidance of a knowledgeable and friendly adult was a good predictor of later attention to, interest in, and scientific understanding of plants.” It is important to teach an appreciation of plants early in a child’s life, to show that plants are valued, important for human life and rewarding to grow and study and to preserve. Stgar (2007) showed you could increase student interest in plants with education.
In ASHS, we are a Society that values plants and, as such, we need to talk more about the wonders of horticulture, especially to the next generation.
References: Lewis, C.A. 1996. Green Nature/Human Nature: The Meaning of Plants in Our Lives. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press. http://www.press.uillinois.edu/books/catalog/88qxk4nh9780252065101.html Strgar, Jelka. 2007. Increasing the interest of students in plants. Journal of Biological Education 42.1: 19-23. Wandersee, J.H. and Schussler, E.E. 2000. National survey on the public perception of plants. Paper presented at the 2000 Annual Meeting of the Botanical Society of America, Portland, OR.