Plants are fascinating in many ways – just think of old-fashioned fragrant roses, the thousands of peony cultivars that have been bred through the last few centuries, and magnificent tall trees – they are all beautiful but also important.
Plants provide the world with food, fodder, fibers for clothes, construction materials and many medicinal compounds. Recently, I heard a presentation by a pharmacologist and he said that over 90% of all the medicines we use today were originally found and purified from plants. Hence, it can be said with a good reason that plants support our life in all aspects.
In addition to the many food products, plants also provide us with oxygen. Not everyone has perhaps understood, that all oxygen in our atmosphere has been and is produced by plants. During photosynthesis water molecules are split and oxygen is released. Water is a very stable molecule and a lot of energy is needed to split it into hydrogen and oxygen. This energy comes from the sun, and plant leaf chloroplasts are excellent in harnessing it into chemical energy in hydrocarbons that form the basis of all organic compounds in the world. This means that all our food originates from plants.
In addition to the vital oxygen, plants also consume vast amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This is much more important than we think. All the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is assimilated by plants once in 25 years. If we increase carbon dioxide production or change the plant cover on Earth, both of which we are doing constantly, we disturb the carbon dioxide and oxygen balance in the atmosphere very quickly. When we think of any such large changes taking place in our globe, we normally deal with geological time scales of millions of years. This is not so with our atmosphere! Our actions result in large changes in carbon dioxide concentrations in much less than a lifetime! Carbon dioxide is also a strong greenhouse gas, and its rising concentrations lead to rising global temperatures.
Hence, in addition to limiting our carbon dioxide emissions, we should also take good care of the plant life on Earth to sequester as much carbon as possible – we all depend on it!
Find out more about Fascination of Plants Days 2021 from the European Plant Science Organisation (EPSO)'s website.