The Case for More Plantmoji

There are nearly 3,000 emoji available at your fingertips ☝️. These images depict everything from emotions 🤪 to animals 🦎, national flags 🇺🇸 to sports equipment 🏒.  Emoji have become an integral part of how we communicate in a digital world 📱.

Emoji have grown to be more diverse 👶🏻👩🏽‍🦱👨🏾‍🦱 and inclusive 👳🏼‍♂️👨🏿‍🌾👩‍🔬, at least when it comes to humans. But there is a startling lack of diversity when it comes to the plant kingdom 🌱. Of those nearly 3,000 emoji, only about 57 are plants. That’s about two percent of the total emoji, representing only four percent of all known plant families. For a big-picture comparison, plants make up about 80 percent of all life on earth.

The Breakdown

More than half (33) of plant emoji showcase plants as food, mostly fruits 🍎 and vegetables 🥦 but also a salad 🥗 or a bowl of rice 🍚. Fifteen emoji highlight foliage or form, such as the cactus 🌵 or maple leaf 🍁 and even including decorations like a Christmas tree 🎄 or tanabata tree 🎋.

The existing plant emoji also skew heavily toward the rose family, with ten members of Rosaceae represented including roses 🌹, apples 🍎, and strawberries 🍓. The next largest group is emoji that are not easily identifiable, or contain multiple plant families. This includes the nondescript deciduous tree 🌳, leafy green 🥬, and the bowl of salad🥗. Fifteen plant families are represented by a single emoji.

There are about a dozen other emoji that convey the idea of plants, such as green blobs on the taco emoji to signify lettuce 🌮, or green blobs on the house emoji for trees and shrubs 🏡. But the lack of detail means these plant representations are generally not identifiable.

Growing an Orchid Emoji

As a botanical garden striving to discover and share knowledge of plants, we’d like to see more plants 🍀 represented by emoji, or what we’re calling plantmoji. The Garden recently submitted a proposal 📨 to create an orchid emoji to the Unicode Consortium, which oversees the emoji selection process.

Read our orchid emoji proposal

The reason we chose to start with the orchid is simple—we wanted to use one and there’s no existing emoji that’s a suitable substitute 🤷‍♀️. Orchids have a unique flower structure that makes them almost instantly recognizable and distinct from other flowers. We’re not the only ones who noticed 👀 this omission either. Social media feeds are full of people wondering why ⁉️ there isn’t an orchid emoji.

Orchids are one of the two largest plant families on the planet (Orchidaceae) representing about 26,000 known species, yet there are zero orchid emoji. For reference, there are nine species of tigers and two tiger emoji 🐯🐅.

The Phalaenopsis, or moth, orchid is one of the most popular flowering houseplants—adorning dentist 🦷 waiting rooms and apartment window sills across the world 🗺. That’s the reason we chose to base our orchid emoji design on the Phalaenopsis, because of its ability to instantly convey the idea and symbolism of an orchid, even to those who aren’t horticulturists or botanists.

A large-scale look at the orchid emoji proposed by the Garden. Designed by Sam Balmer.

The Push for More Plantmoji

The process of approving new emoji is a long one 📅, and we can’t guarantee we’ll succeed. But there is some progress being made to add more plantmoji to the mix. The next round of emoji reportedly includes garlic and onion (both in the Amaryllidaceae family). Potted plant, blueberries (Ericaceae), and bell pepper (Solanaceae) are also reportedly slated for release at a later date. A cannabis leaf emoji has been submitted and rejected several times.

We hope our proposal for an orchid emoji encourages others to work toward expanding digital diversity and submitting their own plantmoji 🌿. If you need a little inspiration to create your own, here are some other plant families that could use a little love 💚.

Orchids (Orchidaceae): One of the two largest families of flowering plants in the world, representing nearly 900 genera and 26,000 species. Zero emoji.
Possible additions: Phalaenopsis or Cattleya flower. (Yes, we already submitted one. But all we really want is for one to get accepted. We’ll cheer on anyone who can help see this through).

Asters (Asteraceae): One of the two largest families of flowering plants in the world, representing more than 1,600 genera and more than 25,000 species. Two emoji 🌼🌻.
Possible additions: Asters come in all sizes and hues, making it the perfect candidate for adding a sequence of new flower colors—white, yellow, red, orange, purple, and pink. This expands the represented species without the need to design a completely new emoji.

Aroids (Araceae): A family of more than 100 genera and at least 3,600 species. Many members of this family are popular as houseplants. Aroids are also known for their unique inflorescence, one not currently represented by existing flower emoji. Zero emoji.
Possible additions: Corpse flower, Peace lily, Philodendron.

Ferns (Class, Polypodiopsida): Ferns have been on Earth for millions of years. There are multiple fern families and more than 10,000 known species growing in a wide variety of habitats. Ferns reproduce with spores instead of flowers and seeds. Zero emoji.
Possible additions: Fiddlehead or frond based on a bracken fern or ostrich fern.

Water Lily (Nymphaeaceae): There are about 70 species in the water lily family, including the giant Victorias. The most common genus, Nymphaea, contains many of the hybrids and cultivars popular in water gardening. Zero emoji.
Possible additions: Water lily flower on a blue background, water lily flower and lily pad.

Cassidy Moody — Senior Digital Media Specialist

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