We know people are more attracted to animals than they are to plants and that the reasons why are many. People like animals because they move, can interact, are furry, etc. Do plants have any appealing qualities? Is love at first sight possible with plants? Can interest in plants be encouraged?
In Increasing the Interest of Students in Plants, Jelka Strgar of the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia brings attention to the differences in how people notice plants and animals. She points out that animals have instant appeal, while plants tend to be appreciated only after they have been explained or shared via the “enthusiasm of a third party” (Strgar, 2007). Interested in measuring the effects of classroom instruction on student interest in plants, she created the experiment that is the focus of this post.
Knowing that people are more attracted to plants if they are pretty, useful, have interesting features, or engage in some type of interesting behavior, Strgar (2007) established a collection of interesting plant specimens for students (n=184, ages 9-23) to observe. Her collection was composed of plants with immediate eye-catching qualities and plants with qualities that were less obvious. Plants were labeled “A” through “H” and students were asked to record their interest in each plant using a 5-point scale. Students rated each specimen twice. Once when they first saw the plants and again after they had received information about each plant and had the opportunity to touch the plants and reflect on what they learned. Included in the collection were a peanut plant with fruit (Arachis hypogea), a pine cone from a Himalayan blue pine (Pinus wallichiana), the fruit of an Osage orange (Maclura pomifera), a sensitive plant (Mimosa pudica), green algae, an Alice Sundew plant (Drosera aliciae), a plastic artificial squash, and a water lettuce plant (Pistia stratiotes).
Strgar (2007) observed that plants students considered to be too common generated little interest. While plants of an unusual size or shape, plants that did something (i.e., float, move), and plants with appealing colors generated immediate interest, as did plants students had never seen before. Students found the Osage orange, water lettuce and cone of the Himalayan blue pine the most interesting on first sight. Student interest in the green algae, Alice Sundew plant, sensitive plant and artificial squash was moderate. The plant generating the least amount of interest at first sight was the peanut plant.
After teachers talked about each plant and students had the opportunity to touch the plants, Strgar (2007) found there was a statistically significant increase in interest in the Alice Sundew plant, the sensitive plant and the peanut plant. Interest levels in the Osage orange, water lettuce, cone of the Himalayan blue pine and green algae remained the same. The only specimen for which there was a statistically significant decrease in interest was the plastic squash.
Upon review of data and student comments, Strgar (2007) determined that two factors contributed to the observed increase in student interest in plants:
- Teachers showing students how to look at plants in a new way.
- The element of surprise experienced by students with respect to some of the specimens.
Strgar (2007) concluded that it is possible to increase student interest in plants at all levels of education if teachers serve as enthusiastic guides and if living plants are used as examples.
Strgar, Jelka. 2007. Increasing the interest of students in plants. Journal of Biological Education. 42(1): 19-23. Winter 2007