The blessings not to be taken for granted – why plants matter

There are scientific terms called Plant Awareness Disparity (PAD), or Plant Blindness (PB) referring to peoples who recognize plants as a disadvantage or simply not as aware of them compare to animals and other organisms. Surprisingly, researchers found that the PAD is quite widespread indicating that many of us tend to not recognize the existence of plants. There are many reasons that the importance of plants is often neglected by us. However, a group of people called botanists who studying plants can tell us why the plant is essential to us. We consume plants as the major food resources, but plants give us much more than that. The complexity, richness, and diversification of the flora world build a complex food chain in the ecosystem, which supports other life cycles and energy circulation in nature.

Plants are not negligible as they involved in our diet in both direct and indirect ways. As a producer in a food chain, plants absorb energy from light through photosynthesis. Primary consumers of herbivores like caterpillar and goat obtain energy by consuming plants mainly the abundant leaves. Humans, as secondary or tertiary consumers, obtain proteins by consuming meat such as chicken, goat, and beef. Vegetarians get their protein through legumes or beans in the form of plant protein. Not to mention the staple foods are largely from rice, wheat, potato, and corn. Flowering plants provide nectar for pollinators including bees and butterflies, whereas we take honey from honeybees. Fruiting plants or conifers offer food like fruits or nuts. We consume fruits and vegetables in raw, processed, or cooked for their valuable nutrition as well as the fiber, which is critical for maintaining the health of the digestive system.

Moreover, other than obtaining essential nutrients from plants, we also take advantage of phytochemicals mostly the secondary metabolites including terpenoids, phenolic compounds, alkaloids, and sulfur-containing compounds for their valuable medicinal properties. Every single plant contains a certain amount of medicinal compounds, but only those contain active compounds at a higher concentration are known as medicinal plants. Consuming a large number of varieties of vegetables is an excellent lifestyle to remain healthy in general. Animals in the forest use herbs to relieve pain or sickness while birds eat certain fruits or seeds as laxatives. Many medicinal plants have been used for thousands of years that are widely cultivated such as medicinal cannabis. There are several active compounds that are commercially produced on a large scale as medicines, for example, Atropine is produced from Atropa belladonna, Datura stramonium, and hyoscyamus niger. Paclitaxel was derived from the bark of the Pacific Yew. et al.

Plants grow hardy wood and accumulate large biomass that enables them to provide shelter and clothing. Birds build a nest using barks, leaves, or living in the holes of the trees—humans harvest the wood, the timber to build the structure of the house. Timber is also the raw material for furniture such as table, chair, wardrobe, rack, and bed. Because of their hardness, aesthetics pattern, natural aromatic properties, and environmentally friendly nature, wooden furniture is still prevalent in the modern lifestyle. Plants provide us the clothing as well. Animals grow a thick layer of furs, but humans would not survive without coverings. For example, cotton fiber is produced from cotton plants, and linen is obtained from flax. Plants also provide natural dye for coloring clothing. The silk from the cocoon of the silkworm is also produced indirectly from the plant by feeding silkworm with mulberry leaves. Besides, fiber can be made into ropes and other durable fibber-containing products.

Although invisible, the plant is a magician in circulating water and air and thus is critical to maintaining the cycle and purification of water and air. Water is the universal nourishing and moistening medium that every organism relies on. Water evaporates from the ocean and other parts of the earth’s surface, becomes dense clouds, and then comes down as raining water, from which the forest absorbs and preserves as underground water. The enormous roots system of a dense forest can purify underground water by multiple soil layers and then pump them up into the air through vesicular tissue mainly the xylem by transpiration. The areas that reach the optimum forest coverage rate not just have cleaner water but also much better air condition. Other herbaceous aquatic plants purify rivers, lakes by absorbing all kinds of organic and inorganic matters. Certain kinds of aquatic plants can also effectively remove harmful pollutants in sewage or wastewater from manufacturing industries.

Because of the powers of plants in manipulating water and air, plants regulate the climate in a gloabal manner. The current issues of climate change are largely caused by human activities including industrialization, agriculture, transportation, deforestation, and housing. Those activities involve a significant amount of emission of carbon dioxide, which is one of the greenhouse gases that trap the heat thus contributing to global warming, other greenhouse gases are nitrogen and sulfate oxides. With the increase of the human population and human activities, it’s predictable that an alarming level associated with ecosystem costs will be reached. Plants reduce carbon dioxide by converting them into oxygen and carbohydrates through photosynthesis. Therefore, awareness of the importance of plants is always the top priority in education. People all around the world should cooperate together to plant more trees that are beneficial to the ecosystem for more sustainable earth for future generations.

Apart from the proven benefits of the plants mentioned above. Plants also bring mental wellness to us. As the spiritual creature, humans persistently seek happiness and the meaning of life through human history. The plants were largely involved in shaping human history, cultures, religions, and philosophies through their powers in inspiration, healing, and relaxation. People who are bored with city life take their vacation in the wild nature like hiking, jungle tracking, or a leisure walk in a botanical garden, or stay in a cozy wooden house in a rural area. A city that is filled with plants, flowers, and landscaping along the street simply makes everybody happier by their beautiful colors, patterns, the fresh fragrance smells, and the cooling effects of the shades from a big tree. People who spent eight hours in their office love to have indoor plants such as succulents and cactus on their table, which also function as natural air purifiers. Slow-growing plants with low maintenance like aroids are ideal choices for house plants. Then, terrarium involves more complicated design as a mini-ecosystem inside a glass container is becoming popular as urban green with the bonus of imaginative stories. A mini garden full of herbs or rose also adds vivid landscapes that brightening the ordinary routined days. Plants have endless possibilities other than in the botanical area. And most importantly, plants welcome any exploration with their open and nurture natures.