Feeling plants

The cultural ecosystem services that we receive as non-material or intangible benefits are based on individual or collective experiences and perceptions in contact with the natural environment we inhabit.

In this relationship, all living beings interact with the world through our sensory abilities, forming a network of knowledge that shapes our expectations, beliefs and knowledge.

The experience of feeling through sight, smell, hearing, touch and taste trigger perceptions that allow us to distinguish impressions of the environment in a given context. This perceptual construction is vital for adaptation to the environment.

In this web of perceptual links, the human connection with the plant kingdom is crossed by its capacity for contemplation in a specific context.

So much so, that it has been shown that part of contemporary humanity experiences a perceptual inability described by botanists Wandersee and Schussler (1999) as “plant blindness,” which is explained as the human tendency to ignore the kingdom of plants because they consider them inferior and unworthy of consideration.

Fortunately, from the different perspectives of medical sciences, social sciences, urban planning and architecture it is possible to reeducate this and other anthropocentric biases. 

Numerous epidemiological studies verify that promoting contact with plants has a restorative effect on our physical and mental health, by increasing the production of oxytocin and serotonin, positively affecting the regulation of stress, depression, anxiety and performance levels. academic and work.

On the other hand, it has been demonstrated that outdoor recreational activities or the habitual practice of gardening make it possible to prevent or overcome non-communicable diseases and promote social interactions and that in contact with vegetation it is possible to increase curiosity, attention, concentration and stimulate the reminiscence of memories. All these perceptual stimulation activities strengthen our cognitive abilities.

Other investigations, has highlighted the benefits on the most vulnerable communities, identifying the reduction in mortality among women who live in greener environments (James et al, 2016), the increase in healthy habits among boys and girls who live surrounded by nature (Fernández Barres, et al, 2022) or the notable improvements in the treatment of patients with neurodegenerative disorders who attend therapeutic and rehabilitation activities in sensory or stimulation gardens.

Going a little further, at the end of the 19th century, Charles Thays, a landscaper who participated in the development of the metropolitan urban parks of the City of Buenos Aires, said: “Man, especially those who work, need distraction and is there any Is there anything healthier, more noble, more true, when you know how to appreciate it, than the contemplation of trees, of beautiful flowers, when they are arranged with taste? The spirit then rests, the pains are at least partially forgotten, and the aspect of the beautiful, the pure, produces an immediate effect on the heart. The man immediately returns, now to work, now to his family, under the rule of more favorable dispositions than those he would have had without those moments of enchanting contemplation.

Evidently, these “discoveries” about the benefits of nature for human well-being reveal how far we have come in the dismantling of our species in the system, presenting us with a turning point in our patterns of thinking, consumption, production and habits.

If we accept the opportunity to abandon the chaos to observe the subtle details of the plant world and its relevance to the rest of living beings, we can reestablish an emotional connection with the world around us, synchronizing our existence with the secret life of plants, birds, insects. Be part of the universe.

Recommendations to put into practice

 -Go for a walk and each time plan different routes (long, short, busy, lonely, shady or sunny...). Observe seasonal changes through flowers, foliage, the shape of trees. Discover the details of the gardens in houses and balconies.
 -When you go out to the garden, a park or a tree-lined street, stimulating the sense of smell has a powerful effect on our emotions, it is a sense that we constantly use unconsciously, which is why it allows us to trigger the evocation of memories and anticipation of events. 
-In open space it is very interesting to stimulate auditory discrimination, to recognize the intensity of sounds or relate sounds with experiences. Walking and talking outdoors is a practice that strengthens bonds and allows you to consider new ideas. 
-Approaching and touching the foliage, flowers, fruits or bark requires due respect, because although the odor glands are stimulated and reward us with their fragrant perfumes, other plant defense mechanisms that can be toxic are also put into action. 
-The stimulation of the sense of taste is only recommended in orchards or fruit plantations and managed by trained personnel.
-Inside homes, offices or classrooms, find a sunny place to grow some plants or simply place a vase with flowers or branches.

References

Fernández-Barrés, y otros. Urban environment and health behaviours in children from six European countries, Environment International, Volume 165, 2022, 107319, ISSN 0160-4120, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envint.2022.107319

-James P, Hart JE, Banay RF, Laden F. 2016. Exposición al verdor y la mortalidad en un estudio de cohortes prospectivos de mujeres a nivel nacional. Environ Health Perspect 124:1344-1352; http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1510363.

-Wandersee, J. H., y Schussler, E. E. (1999). Preventing plant blindness. The American biology teacher, 61(2), 82-86.

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