North Texas Daily

Why plants are cool

Why plants are cool

February 24
11:00 2018

Imagine a world with no color. The air is toxic, the rain is acid and there are no visible signs of life anywhere.

This is a world without plants.

Plants are the basis for all life. Without them, there would be nothing.

Plants clean, feed, clothe, poison, heal, fuel, and… well, the list goes on.

As food, plants give many species the nutrients we need to carry out some of the most basic biological processes. Plants are called producers because they utilize a process called photosynthesis. Solar energy, absorbed by chlorophyll, is used to transform carbon dioxide and water into sugars, which function as food for the plants.

Herbivores feed on the producers, carnivores eat the herbivores and the circle of life spins unmercifully.

Did you know most farmland in the U.S. functions to produce food for cattle? An article by Alastair Bland, a writer for the Smithsonian’s magazine, noted that at least one-third of land on our planet is used to produce the large quantities of food required to feed cattle.

Were we to reroute this space, the resources and energy toward producing food directly for human consumption, we would be able to feed much of the world’s population.

Plants have also been used as medicine since the beginning of recorded history. Humans have an aptitude for trial and error, which has allowed us to experiment and learn the many gifts and services provided by plants.

For example, did you know tea brewed from the bark of a willow tree functions similarly to Aspirin? The bark contains anti-inflammatory compounds called flavonoids, which work in tandem with Salicin, a chemical resembling that of Aspirin.

Plants can also function efficiently as fuel. This type of fuel is called a biofuel because it utilizes organic matter to power common vehicles, such as cars and trains. Some common plants crafted into this kind of fuel are soybeans and corn — both of which are transformed into an alternative fuel drastically less harmful than fuels made from oil. While there are many benefits to using biofuels, reduced carbon emissions are one of the most notable. Tailpipe emissions are one of the largest contributors to the heating of our planet.

In addition to all the services plants provide humans, there are many services performed by plants that both better our environment and the plant kingdom as a whole. Suzanne Simard, a brilliant scientist, discovered the intricate ways in which trees communicate with one another. She discovered established trees may be able to identify their own progeny.

These established trees can actually send carbon from its own roots to the roots of younger saplings in order to provide an immediate essential resource required for healthy growth. She discovered, in this way, trees are able to communicate with one another.

Plants are beautiful and essential. They are important and must be protected and revered. Continued over-harvesting, environmental degradation and pollution are powerful anthropogenic forces which plants cannot stand against alone.

Without changing our behavior and without educating ourselves about the magic taking in place in the natural world, we may lose much of the biodiversity of the plant kingdom.

Take an interest, and understand why plants are actually very cool.

Featured Image: Illustration by Austin Banzon

About Author

Sean Rainey

Sean Rainey

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