The words “rebel” and “botanist” aren’t typically found in the same sentence, but recently these words have joined together to describe a new wave of people who are using street graffiti to highlight the names and importance of the diverse but downtrodden flora growing in the cracks of paths and walls in cities across Europe.
The idea of naming wild plants wherever they go – which began in France – has gone viral, with people chalking and sharing their images on social media. More than 127,000 people have liked a photo of chalked-up tree names in a London suburb, while a video of botanist Boris Presseq of Toulouse Museum of Natural History chalking up names to highlight street flowers in the French city has had 7 million views. Trust us, that’s a lot of views for a botanist.
French botanist and campaigner Sophie Leguil, who lives in London, set up the More Than Weeds campaign to change perceptions of urban plants in the UK after helping to spread the Sauvages de ma rue (“wild things of my street”) chalking campaign in France led by Tela Botanica. She has won permission to chalk up Hackney’s highways and make chalk trails to highlight the forgotten flora at our feet and is asking other councils to allow the same; in the UK, it is illegal to chalk anything—hopscotch, art or botanical names – on paths or highways without permission, even if it educates, celebrates and fosters interest and knowledge in nature.
Now if you walk through Hackney, you might just see chalk labels that tell you that those weeds you walk past everyday actually have a scientific name—such as Viper Bugloss or Herb Robert. Rebel botany is an awesome way for people to connect with the immediate nature around them—perhaps we can get the movement going in the US too?