Why should we care about plants? As a plant conservation biologist, I get asked that question a lot! Try as I might, I’m not sure I ever adequately convey how important plants are to virtually every aspect of our life. Like to breathe? Thank a plant! Eat? Thank a plant! Here are just a few reasons we should thank a plant this month.
Plants create the oxygen in our atmosphere through photosynthesis. They (along with some photosynthetic bacteria) are solely responsible for providing the air we breathe.
Virtually all food comes directly or indirectly from plants. The fruits and veggies at the farmer’s market, sugar and flour in our baked goods, meat and dairy products from animals that required forage, and even mushrooms that required plants to supply their energy - it all starts with plants.
Most medicines are originally isolated from plants (and some fungi too). Examples of important drugs coming from plants include aspirin from willow bark and the potent cancer fighting drugs, taxol from a yew tree and vincristine from a periwinkle plant.
Plants have been used to heat our homes and cook our food since the dawn of civilization. Some plants are used directly for fuel, such as wood and peat for fireplaces and stoves. Fossil fuels, like coal and oil, are largely derived from plants that lived millions of years ago.
Click here to read five more reasons to be thankful for plants, from Project Budburst, a national network of citizen scientists monitoring phenology. Learn more about Project Budburst here.
Kayri Havens is the senior director of ecology and conservation at the Chicago Botanic Garden. She conducts plant conservation research, including studying the effects of climate change on plants. She also was one of the co-founders of Project BudBurst.