The Purpose & Benefits of Plants
When was the last time you saw or used a plant? Most likely you can gaze out a window and see a flower or a tree. The paper on your desk counts too. How about your home? What did you eat for lunch? Have you been breathing lately? Plants are everywhere and without them, we wouldn’t even exist.
Plants are living organisms that have been around since the beginning of time. They range in size from microscopic algae to hundred meter tall redwood trees. New plants are always being discovered and so far there are about 350,000 plant species, which include trees, herbs, grasses, vines, ferns, mosses, and algae.
Picture a plant in your head. Do you think of plants with leaves, stems, and roots? They are made of cellulose and get energy through photosynthesis. The world has all sorts of plants. The two main types are spore plants and seed plants. Spore plants include algae, mosses, and ferns. Seed plants are trees, flowers, and herbs. Together they are classified as the Kingdom of Plantae.
Every plant is different and each fills a niche in the environment. Plants can be annual, biennial, or perennial. Some grow big and tall and others are slim and flexible or short and thorny. A plant’s growth depends on the climate. The climate determines temperature, water, light, and nutrients. Growth can be hindered by competition for space, soil composition, fungi, insects, pests, diseases, and animals. Fortunately, plants adapt because they are one of our planet’s most influential organisms.
The environment depends on plants to prevent soil erosion, to assist in the nitrogen cycle, and to be part of the water cycle. Plants are a main source of food, but even more importantly plants produce oxygen. It is vital that plants thrive so that humans can survive. This is why plant conservation is so important.
Plants are found from tall mountaintops to shallow seas. Most plants are specific to a climate and very few plants live in the frigid conditions near our planet’s poles. Plants are the dominant organisms of a landscape. Forests, grasslands, and jungles are huge expanses of land that are covered in plants. Luckily, plants have adapted to our world and can easily coexist with animals. Wildlife helps pollinate and disperse seeds in exchange for habitats and food.
Besides providing humans with oxygen, plants provide foods, building materials, medicines, fuels, and aesthetic features that enhance our lives. Plants supply humans with wood for building, clothing, renewable fuels, coals, petroleum, herbal supplements, pesticides, drugs, poisons, chemicals, and medicines. Where would we be without those things?
Did you know that there are over 20,000 edible plants? But only about 20 species provide 90% of our food! Try to imagine your next meal without plants. Vegetables, spices, nuts, herbs, fruits, flowers, corn, rice, wheat, chocolate, coffee, tea, wine, beer, alcohol, sugar cane, soybeans, sunflowers, and olives are just a few of the plants that you might have eaten this week. Also consider that the beef, chicken, pork, turkey, and buffalo that you bought at the grocery store all grew big and strong by eating grass. Plants provide the nutritious foods that our bodies rely on.
Plants help us relax, beautify our homes, provide shade and privacy, block noise, and prevent erosion. People camp in forests, visit botanical gardens, and grow their own food and gardens.
Plants play a role in every home, garden, backyard, culture, and life all over the world.
There are many jobs that are based on plants. The study of plants is called botany. The cultivation of plants is called agriculture and includes agronomy, horticulture, and forestry. Think of all the professions that revolve around plants – farmers, gardeners, groundskeeper jobs, landscapers, horticultural therapist, nursery workers, marine biologist, botanist, agronomist, plant breeders, fruit growers, florists, and arborists.
Everyone is involved with plants. They are impossible to avoid. Next time you see a tree, flower, or moss think about what an impact it has on your lifestyle.
North American Plant Protection Organization
United States Department of Agriculture
USDA Plants Database