by Steve Gottschling


The academic journal Nature Ecology and Evolution published in mid-June an alarming report on the accelerating rate of plant extinction, but if we’re being honest, they would do better to chuck that report aside and find relief in the current state of menswear.

The report, which was published without consulting the fashion industry, found that every year for the past 250 years, an average of two plant species have gone extinct, while plants discovered since 1900 have disappeared even faster. When questioned about the study, plant researcher Dr. Maria Vorontsova said, “we suffer from plant blindness. Animals are cute, important and diverse, but I am absolutely shocked how a similar level of awareness and interest is missing for plants. We take them for granted, and I don’t think we should.”

If we are to take those scientists at their word, things seem dire indeed. The Wall Street Journal reported last year that widespread disinterest in plants leaves government agencies scrambling for employees who can handle policy related to plant extinction and invasive species. 

But these scientists are wrong. Plants are reappearing, in the form of floral fabrics that decorate the bodies of fashion conscious men. As every men’s magazine has by now observed, we are in the midst of a floral shirt revival. More pineapples roam the streets than ever in recent memory. To embrace a man in 2019 is to hug dozens of little trees at once. If wearing a sports jersey is to flaunt your fandom for all to see, then we are bigger fans of plants than we have been in years. 

This wasn’t always the case. In 1999, floral shirts’ cachet was less certain, so it made sense for James Wandersee and Elisabeth Schussler to coin the phrase “plant blindness” to describe our habit of shafting plants to the background while cooing over the adorable animals that stomp over them. But if those researchers overcame their own blindness, they would see how legions of men walking out their front doors with seed packets printed across their torsos show that things couldn’t possibly be as bad as they say. 

If plant researchers looked up once in a while from their field studies and data, they would see that ecological health has always corresponded with the number of floral shirts existing at a given moment. 

In 1957, the government was too busy passing the Federal Plant Pest Act to see the only real plant pest was Frank Sinatra, who with his Aloha shirt had for years been starting fights for no reason with other men in Aloha shirts in From Here to Eternity.

Instead of building the Mauna Loa observatory in 1958 to keep track of atmospheric carbon dioxide, government officials could have gathered around the peeling Fauxna Loa at their nearest tiki bar and, judging by the beautiful bouquet of off-hour office workers doing their best to look relaxed, noticed that nature was well accounted for.

In 1961, scientists were so busy raising the alarm over the invasive miconia tree’s rapid land-grab in Oahu that they failed to observe Hawaii was also being invaded by Elvis and his swarm of gawkers in Blue Hawaii, surely replenishing any lost flora with its rayon equivalent.

And, as the Endangered Species Act evolved throughout the 70s to protect an expanding roster of plants, none of the officials behind it realized how futile their efforts were, as plant life far more colorful and numerous was being promoted in the same period by the evolving career of Jimmy Buffet. 

Next year, when the season’s first crop of shirts arrive with little glaciers all over them, we can rest easy knowing the dangers of climate change are also behind us.