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Power To The Plants!

Despite the importance humans place on our own existence, there’s another life-form that eclipses our presence on the planet: the humble plant!

From an environmental education perspective, it’s critical that we promote increased awareness of and appreciation for the value of plants within the broader spectrum of biodiversity.

Plants are the primary life on Earth. Everything else depends upon them to survive.

From terrestrial plants to aquatic plants, the green kingdom is profoundly important to the health and well-being of the planet’s biodiversity.

Whilst many plants are not particularly glamorous, their function through photosynthesis is essential; indeed, Earth offers no other way in which to translate the sun’s energy into available energy for all other organisms.

Photosynthesis is nothing short of a chemical miracle in which light, water and air transmute into living matter. This is the most crucial process in the biological world because directly or indirectly, photosynthesis underpins the whole of creation. Less plants on Earth, less photosynthesis for the benefit of us all.

By default, we humans tend to focus on trees when we think about the importance of plants. From the Congo to the Amazon, Earth’s great forests are the lungs of our planet. But what about individual plant species? What about the lesser plants? The ones that fly under the popular radar? A wondrous kingdom in their own right, all plants (big and small) demonstrate the same ingenuity and inventiveness that we see in higher organisms.

As Richard Mabey states in Planet Earth: The Future (what the experts say): “We have the same attraction towards the familiar and the glamorous in the plant world as we do in the animal world. We love bluebells for their smell and the way they symbolize an English woodland in spring. We love the glamour and exotic allure of orchids from the rainforest and their extraordinary ability to live on air…And yet underneath all these…literally and metaphorically, are the little humdrum plants: the mosses that are often the first things to move in to colonize bare rock, the parasitic plants that help decompose half-dead wood, the plants that have co-evolved with animals – the grasses. Large areas of the planet are covered by grasses, which evolved along with herbivores. And these beautiful partnerships you see in all kinds of other parts of the ecosystem” (2006, p.38).

Like other kingdoms in nature, the plant world directly contributes to human well-being. Medicine is a case in point. The modern pharmaceutical industry is largely founded on the active ingredients of plants that (in some cases, for thousands of years) have a lengthy history in folk use and indigenous “bush” medicine, for example. Then, of course, there’s the obvious connection with agriculture, manufacturing, building. But even beyond those plants that have utilitarian uses, biodiversity in the plant world is critical for other reasons.

“If there was a planet-wide failure in plankton or in the anonymous and really extremely unglamorous mycorrhizal fungi that are necessary for trees to grow, then the planet would collapse. These don’t get television documentaries made about them, and they don’t figure yet in people’s sense of being truly part of the natural world. Yet they are the vitally important building blocks, and they too need to be given respect” (Richard Mabey, cited in Planet Earth, p.42).

So power to the plants, people. They are our lungs, our medicine, our food, and so much more. When next talking biodiversity, remember to praise the green kingdom, the plants that breathe life and vitality into our world.

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