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Watching TV is good for the planet

From couch potatoes sprout potential botanists.

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Could nature documentaries do any good to help promote plant awareness? In a recent paper published in Annals of Botany, Joanna Kacprzyk and colleagues from University College Dublin examined if the widely watched BBC TV showThe Green Planet‘, which focused on plants, could spark a deeper interest in endangered species. They found that after watching the series, viewers did indeed take to the internet to learn more about the plants featured in the show independently.

The BBC broadcast The Green Planet in 2022, with over 5 million UK viewers per episode. Each episode promoted plant appreciation and conservation by highlighting plant diversity found in tropical rainforests, aquatic ecosystems, seasonal lands, deserts, and urban settings. As a result, Kacprzyk and colleagues found The Green Planet to be an excellent starting point to study how popular nature documentaries affect viewers’ awareness of plants.

The research group began by identifying the plants mentioned in the script of The Green Planet episodes. Then, to gather information on users’ web interests, they used the Google Trends tool to download data for a period beginning a year before the first episode was released and ending three months after the last episode. Afterwards, they looked into Wikipedia view trends for sites depicting the show’s stated flora.

Scientists found that 18 out of 64 plant species featured in The Green Planet reached peak popularity in UK Google searches one week after the episode aired. Moreover, visits to Wikipedia pages corresponding to those now ‘popular’ plants increased. As expected, plants with more screen time were more likely to pique viewers’ interest in both Google and Wikipedia. 

The Rafflesia plant, which has the largest flowers on Earth and a distinctive deathly odour, drew the most attention from the audience. The corpse plant’s strong engagement with The Green Planet‘s audience confirmed that it is an effective ambassador for plant biodiversity and conservation.

As demonstrated by Kacprzyk and colleagues, natural history documentaries are potent tools for promoting widespread audience participation, raising awareness of endangered plant species and designing plant conservation strategies.

The article is timely. Nearly 40% of plant species are on the verge of extinction, with non-human-useful plants particularly vulnerable. Despite this fact, conservation efforts are typically biased towards mammals and birds. The results show that if plants are presented to a receptive audience, they will seek out information about plant diversity.


Kacprzyk J, Clune S, Clark C and Kane A (2023) “Making a greener planet: nature documentaries promote plant awareness,” Annals of Botany. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1093/aob/mcac149

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