We make use of plants in so many ways. We eat them, we use them to make drinks, fibres, building materials, medicines, dyes, poisons etc. We use them for flavour, to feed our animals, for ornamental purposes and so on. We would be nothing without plants. They even create the air we breathe.
Forests act as carbon sinks and provide ecosystems with homes. Without plants the soil would erode and we would see increased desertification. Water would come to us in a less filtered state. And so on and so on.
Plants are woven into our very existence. We use them as symbols, in beliefs and religions, in ritual, in art and they show up in our fears and superstitions.
Plants activate all our senses. We can admire their beauty, smell their fragrances, reach out and touch them and taste them and even hear them in the crackling of leaves, the snapping of branches.
But in spite of all of these important factors, we dismiss plants as part of the furniture (literally) and we no longer see them. A study showed participants a grid of images, the same number of animals and plants were included, and were asked to remember what was there. The animals were remembered, plants significantly less so. Suggestions for why this is include our education system and society’s emphasis on animals over plants, plants being green and generally growing amongst each other means we don’t see the different species whereas animals are generally quite different. There seems to be a huge disconnect between how we see plants and the major roles they have in our lives.
This plant blindness affects the way we think about plants, the way we understand plants and how we care about plants. A fifth of the world’s wild plants are endangered but most of the money goes to animals.
In the US, 57% of federal endangered species are plants but less than 4% of money spent on threatened species is used to protect them.
– The Conversation
Whilst most of us really undervalue plants, some cultures do have strong relationships with them, such as aboriginal Australians and native north Americans. Generally speaking, these are people who have a closer relationship to the land and to nature more widely.
Beyond impacting the plants themselves, this affects us. Plants bring beauty, intrigue and wonder to our lives. They provide us with the tea and coffee which allow us to sit down and chat with friends. Plants go beyond our needs and shape our rituals and habits and social life as well.
But is it just take, take, take? Do we do anything for plants?
I struggled to find anything that we do for plants. We provide gardens for them which offer rarer and endangered species homes which are tailored for them with regular watering, nutrient rich food, shelter etc. But often these are rare or endangered because of us in the first place. One could possibly argue that by looking after cacti in our homes we are giving them an easier life but it doesn’t feel a very strong argument.
We exhale carbon dioxide which plants need but without us wouldn’t they just get it straight from the air and they’d certainly be able to get it from animals…
I know that some plants need animals to survive, or more specifically to reproduce, but I’m really not sure I can find any way in which our existence benefit plants…
I’d love to hear if you’ve got any ideas!