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Plants parade for passport picture

A survey invites the public to suggest plants and animals for illustrating Ireland’s passports, showing one way to raise appreciation for nature’s diversity.

Image from Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs website.

For those of us who still use Twitter, it can be a useful – and occasionally surprising – source of inspiration for plant-based items for the Botany One blog.* A good example is this tweet from plant scientist and lecturer at University College Cork (Ireland), Dr Eoin Lettice.** which alerted the Twittersphere to a survey inviting the public to suggest plants (and animals) to feature on the new-look Irish passport.

If you don’t have access to Eoin’s tweet, you can find the survey here, which screen will tell you that “The Irish passport has a strong international reputation and its award-winning design currently features inspirational aspects of Ireland’s heritage. The Department of Foreign Affairs is now exploring design options to feature in the next Irish passport, which will be released in the coming years. We would like to get the public’s input on choosing aspects of Ireland’s diverse natural environment, particularly our flora and fauna, to help shape a key part of the passport design”.

To participate, you don’t have to be an Irish passport-holder. You don’t even have to be Irish or be located in the Island of Ireland, nor even in Great Britain, Elsewhere inside Europe, or Outside Europe***. But, you will have to commit to a process that “should take you no longer than 5 minutes to complete”. Having negotiated various screens the main part of the survey is to select three plants that you’d like to be considered as part of the design, from each of two screens of names presented for that purpose. You have to undertake a similar exercise for animals – although here you have four screens’ worth to work through [whilst there may be more species of animals than plants in Ireland, one could be forgiven for thinking the survey was a little zoocentric…]. Selecting the plants is likely to be a time-consuming task – and may take longer than 5 minutes [although you can probably race through the animal selection side of things…] – because there are so many worthy species to think about.

By way of whetting your appetite, plants listed include: shamrock [rifolium dubium] (Erin Blakemore), western oak [Quercus petraea], St Patrick’s cabbage**** [Saxifraga spathularis], Atlantic (Irish) Ivy [Hedera hibernica], and holly [Ilex aquifolium]. Broadly-minded botanists should be aware that neither fungi nor algae are available from which to choose (and there’s only angiosperms amongst the plants – no gymnosperms, ferns, fern allies, mosses, liverworts, or hornworts…). However, on your behalf I did suggest that fungi and algae – especially seaweeds – should be considered for inclusion [there’s a free-text opportunity towards the end of the survey inviting such comments]. Should you be really passionate about your choice of botanics, there appears to be nothing preventing you from ‘voting’ multiple times – by completing the survey more than once. Do note, this is not advice so to do and influence the outcome of this poll, merely an observation.

Regardless of whether you take part or not, trying to promote a country’s plants (and other wildlife) seems like a jolly good idea. If other passport-issuing states could be similarly encouraged to include plant pictures on their passports it would help to keep images of these wonders of the natural world in the public eye [well, at least those who hold passports]. Maybe that small gesture would help to combat plant awareness disparity [PAD], the condition formerly known as plant blindness. Passports promoting a more plant-appreciative populace, what’s not to like?

In that respect, a phytoappreciative comment is appropriate here regarding the commendable level of botanical literacy shown by the organisers of the survey. All plant species listed have their English common name and their scientific name – the latter correctly italicised with only the first letter of the genus in upper case, i.e. ‘capitalised’. Furthermore – and in a great example of what I’m calling trinomial as distinct from the more-familiar binomial nomenclature – each species also has its Irish name. Well done, Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs! [Although one must spare a thought for the animals whose scientific names are NOT given. Maybe the survey is not so zoocentric, after all..?]

* I was tempted to say that I found out about this item because “a little bird told me”, albeit, in this instance, one that was blue, two-dimensional, and highly-stylised

** This is surely, one of the most apt-sounding examples of nominative determinism for a plantsperson? [Ed. – the plant-savvy readers of Botany One should have worked out the connection, but, just in case they need a clue, think lettuce]. But, you’ve got to go a long way to beat Keith Weed, President of the Royal Horticultural Society!

*** The fact that you don’t have to be located in Ireland to undertake the survey on an Irish document may be a recognition that people of Irish descent whom you’d think would be interested in participating are located in many countries across the globe, a consequence of the well-documented Irish diaspora. Or, it may just be a very egalitarian thing for the Irish government to have done.

**** It’s noteworthy that Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, wasn’t born in Ireland, but apparently comes from a Somerset-cited settlement in Roman Britain nowadays known as Banwell (Harry Jelley; Mark Bridge). Also worthy of note is that his so-called cabbage isn’t a member of the Brassicaceae, the cabbage family, but is a saxifrage within the Saxifragaceae. However, and in keeping with one of the most widely-known ‘facts’ about Saint Patrick – his snake-banishing activities (James Owen) whilst in the emerald isle (Sheila Langan), no snakes are included in the list of passport-worthy animals(!)


Achurra, A. (2022) “Plant blindness: A focus on its biological basis,” Frontiers in Education, 7. Available at: https://doi.org/10.3389/feduc.2022.963448.

Breeze, A. (2023) “Somerset, Bannaventa tabernae, and the dates of St Patrick,” Journal for Late Antique Religion and Culture, 17, pp. 40–58. Available at: https://doi.org/10.18573/jlarc.140.

Parsley, K.M. (2020) “Plant awareness disparity: A case for renaming plant blindness,” Plants, People, Planet, 2(6), pp. 598–601. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1002/ppp3.10153.

Nigel Chaffey

I am a Botanist and former Senior Lecturer in Botany at Bath Spa University (Bath, near Bristol, UK). As News Editor for the Annals of Botany I contributed the monthly Plant Cuttings column to that august international phytological organ for almost 10 years. I am now a freelance plant science communicator and Visiting Research Fellow at Bath Spa University. I also continue to share my Cuttingsesque items - and appraisals of books with a plant focus - with a plant-curious audience at Botany One. In that guise my main goal is to inform (hopefully, in an educational, and entertaining way) others about plants and plant-people interactions, and thereby improve humankind's botanical literacy. I'm happy to be contacted to discuss potential writing - or talking - projects and opportunities.
[ORCID: 0000-0002-4231-9082]

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