by Katie Hunholz, Somervell County Master Gardener Intern
The Importance of Plants
The importance of plants, and the impact they have on our world, is something that is commonly overlooked. However, no matter your age, occupation, or lifestyle, we use plants everyday of our lives. In fact, without plants, we wouldn’t even be able to survive! Plants are contributors in products used as food, soap, cosmetics, medicine, clothing, paper, housing, and numerous other purposes. Not only do we use plants for manufactured products, but they also benefit us in other ways such as erosion control, aesthetics, air quality, recreation, protection from the elements, etc. As we consider the importance of plants, I want to begin by focusing on how plants are essential to our very survival. In order to live, humans need 4 basic things: air, water, food, and shelter. Plants provide us with all of these things.
In a process called photosynthesis, plants absorb sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water, in order to produce carbohydrates (which give the plant energy to make food) and oxygen. The oxygen that is produced is then released into the atmosphere, allowing humans and other wildlife to be able to breathe. Plants also act as air filters, cleaning the air by capturing harmful particulates such as smoke, dust, and lead, and releasing harmless compounds back into the air through a series of chemical reactions.
Not only is oxygen essential for human life, but food is also necessary. Without plants, we would not have food! Everything that we eat is a product of a plant- except salt and water. All animals eat one of two things- other animals, or plants. This means that even if your diet consists entirely of meat, that meat would not exist without plants.
The third essential element of survival is shelter. We all need shelter- it is what protects us from wind, rain, heat, and cold. Plants are the building blocks for the lumber used in houses and the threads used in clothing. Without plants, we wouldn’t even be able to start a fire in order to keep us warm.
The final element essential to life is water. There would still be water in the world, even without plants. However, plants are necessary because they act as filters in the water, removing dangerous impurities. As water flows through an ecosystem, by way of rain, streams, lakes, wetlands, etc., it gathers dangerous pollutants from the environment. But, while moving through soil, those impurities are filtered through plants and microbes. The plants and microbes absorb the harmful chemicals and release cleaner water back into the environment. If we didn’t have plants, those impurities would slowly build up in the human body as we drank the water, leading to sickness, disease, or death.
As you can see, plants are extremely important! In fact, they are so important, that it would be impossible to elaborate on their uses in just one article. I invite you to join me as we begin a series of articles discussing the many things that plants are used for in this modern world, and how they have affected us in the past. I guarantee that this journey will be filled with amazing, eye-opening information that is applicable to all areas of life.
American Forest Foundation. Project Learning Tree. Pre K-8 Environmental Education Activity Guide. 2009.
Murphy, Margaret. Plant and Animal Ways. 1990. Chicago.
Laws, Bill. Fifty Plants that Changed the Course of History. 2010. Quid Publishing.
Sustaining Life: how human life depends on biodiversity. 2008. Oxford University Press