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  • Jennifer Jewell, Cultivating Place


Valley Oaks in the Canyon.

The road ahead is not at all clear as we enter this New Year & New Year.


as much as it ever can be,

is it in fact pretty darn clear? If we were present enough, wide-eyed enough to see it.

Perhaps, the road forward is deep green, and heart shaped, growing right out of the detritus all around us.

Native wild California ginger at the outset of winter, mixed conifer forest, Lassen National Park, 3,400'

This week, I was driving from Brattleboro, Vermont to Hartford, Connecticut with my girls as we headed home from visiting my Aunt Di (their great aunt) after the holidays. A family friend was driving, it was gray, snowy, chilly and the woods along the way were mixed hard wood deciduous trees, down to their skeletal winter essence, with various shrubs, likewise in winter dormancy, lining their woodland edges.

I was taken by the antler-esque "flaming candles" of staghorn sumac especially as we do not have these in just this way in interior Northern California, and they are a particular winter beauty I associate with the North East. I said so much to the car at large - girls in the back checking in with friends on their devices, and driver minding the road: "I just love the staghorn sumac here - especially in winter. It's so brave, assertive, and fun."

I was met with silence.

"What's that?" said our friend, the driver. When I explained, she looked at me - a little quizzically -and replied: "I've lived here my whole life and I've never noticed them."

Staghorn sumac in winter dress, photo by Seabrooke Leckie, all rights reserved.

Staghorn Sumac in Winter, photo by Seabrooke Leckie

According to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh: "Plant Blindness refers to the inability to see or notice the plants in one’s own environment. The term was coined twenty years ago by two botanists, Elizabeth Schussler, of the Ruth Patrick Science Educator Center in Aiken, South Carolina, and James Wandersee, of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. The common condition, according to the pair, results in a chronic inability to recognize the importance of plants in the biosphere and in human affairs."

The California Native Plant Society adds that per William Allen writing in BioScience in 2003, "Plant blindness also comprises an 'inability to appreciate the aesthetic and unique biological features' of plants and 'the misguided, anthropocentric ranking of plants as inferior to animals, leading to the erroneous conclusion that they are unworthy of human consideration.' In addition 'Plant Blindness is a factor in the ongoing declines in university botany programs, herbaria, and other plant science facilities.'"

The Carnegie Museum piece goes on: "Fortunately, not all of us are afflicted. As evidence, CMNH Conservator Gretchen Anderson recounts a touching interaction she observed while conducting exhibit restoration work within the museum’s second floor Hall of North American Wildlife. From a just-opened elevator door a five-year old made a headlong dash to the diorama featuring a pair of mature jaguars and their three cubs. “LOOK Dad!” he called back to his father while pointing into the display, “CACTUS!”'

Or in my case - STAGHORN SUMAC!!! Or in naturalist and educator Joe Joe Clark's case just yesterday's Cultivating Place episode: "LILIES!"

And in your case? What Plants do you see, are you most present with and for?

As gardeners we're among the fortunate for whom the affliction of plant blindness is not a factor. It's up to us to spread that sight with as much heart and presence as we can on the road forward. As gardeners, it has never been more clear to me that offsetting plant blindness, and cultivating plant awareness and appreciation is part of our task, part of our success, and a primary way in which the road forward gets clearer, and greener, all the time.


and the Cultivating Place Team

PS: THIS MONTH - my speaking engagements around The Earth in Her Hands: 75 Extraordinary Women Working in the World of Plants, starts to heat up:

- January 23rd I’m in Sacramento, California at the Sacramento Perennial Plant Club's evening program, and

- January 26th, I'll be up in Portland, Oregon for the Hardy Plant Society of Oregon’s Winter Lecture;



(just click the live link that is the green title of each program to get to the audio file and listen in....)

My top posts on Instagram in 2019 show my priorities - may they just get greener and more literate.

The Earth in Her Hands: 75 Extraordinary Women Working in the World of Plants is being published March 3, 2020 in celebration of Women's History Month. It's AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER: signed from my website before February 15th:,

And anytime: at IndieBound:; Barnes & Noble:; and Amazon:




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Me. Bio photo by Eddie Altrete 2019.


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