What sets Earth apart from other planets is its ability to sustain life. Plants are a critical resource because of the many ways they breathe life on Earth. Mainly, as they release oxygen into the atmosphere, absorb carbon dioxide, provide habitat and food for wildlife and humans, and regulate the water cycle. But that’s not all. They are an integral part of the microcosm of the environment. The benefits plants provide are interwoven into the very fabric of the surroundings. Mainly, along with other species that make up the ecosystem.
Because of the many ways, plants help the environment, the importance of plants is of the utmost importance.
Additionally, green plants are not just important to the human environment. Because they form the basis for the sustainability and long-term health of environmental systems.
You may think there is nothing much to the plants and trees that are around us every day. But they are vital for life and our long-term survival. Because plants are an essential resource – we rely on them for food, water, medicine, the air we breathe, habitat, our climate, and more.
Significance of Plants in the Human Environment
Image Credit: Impoff.com/importance-of-plants
Plants are living organisms that can live on land or water. As you must have observed, plants have many different forms: huge trees, others are herbs or some have a bushy form. They form the source of basic food for all organisms. Additionally, plants help in maintaining oxygen balance, the most important gas that enables us to breathe. Whereas animals emit carbon dioxide by taking in oxygen. Thus, plants regulate the rise in carbon dioxide levels in the air. Additionally, the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere reduces the greenhouse effect and global warming. But it also maintains the ozone layer that helps protect Earth’s life from damaging UV radiation. So, humans directly or indirectly depend on plants for several of their needs.
Plants are the primary source of food for human populations. Many bowls of cereal, legumes, roots and tubers, fruits, nuts, leaves, and young shoots of plants provide valuable and fundamental diets for human consumption and well-being. Furthermore, many plant species are widely utilized as spices and condiments which have a strong flavor, taste, and smell as well as nutritional and medicinal importance, e.g Zingiber officinale, Capsicum frutescens, Solanum nigrum, Piper nigrum, Parkia clappertonia, Xylopia aethiopica, Prosopis Africana, and Adansonia digitata
Plants are a source of foodstuff for livestock, including wildlife populations. Most feed is produced from crops at the farm and consumed by the animals sometime later. However, some straight feeds and particularly mixed feeds are also produced from plant materials and sold by feed mills. Feed raw materials often include, among others: cereals and their by–products; oilseed by–products; leguminous seeds; roots and tubers; green crops/pasture; silage; hay; and straws.
Plants are made into materials used to build both the exterior and interior of different kinds of shelters. Some of these materials are wood, timber, straw, and bamboo used in making roofs and walls both in local and sophisticated houses. Furniture is commonly composed of wood and cloth made from plant fibers.
Much human clothing is made from materials that come directly or indirectly from plants. Cotton is the principal plant for clothing manufacturing. Artificial textile fibers, such as rayon, are manufactured chiefly from cellulose, which is found mainly in the cell walls of plants. Linen is from the flax plant. OxygenPlants take in large quantities of carbon dioxide, releasing oxygen into the atmosphere during the process of photosynthesis, thereby improving the quality of air. Hence, the oxygen in the air we breathe comes from the photosynthesis of plants. Therefore, as a critical part of the ecosystem, plants provide oxygen for other living organisms to survive.
It has been estimated that about eighty percent of all the orthodox drugs originate from plants and that there are about 456 medicinal plants, which are used to manufacture more than 350 classical formulations to treat various ailments. In fact, throughout history, plants have been of great importance to medicine. From ancient times to date, people used traditional herbal medicines to treat their ailments, particularly in those areas which have little or no access to modern healthcare services.
Mainly, wood is almost the only domestic fuel, not only in the rural areas but in some urbanized areas as well. Coal and natural gas are fuels used for heating and cooking. Each had its origin in plants and other organisms that lived on Earth long ago. Peat, which is formed from partially decayed plant material buried in bogs, is a common fuel.
Significance of Plants in the Environment
Image Credit: Wikipedia.org/wiki/Plant_ecology
Plants are the most important producers. Mainly, plants use energy from sunlight to convert CO2 into glucose (or other sugars). The plants with roles in the ecosystem are known as ecological services. They keep us and the rest of the ecosystem alive. The role of plants in the ecosystem lies in exploring the different areas below.
Plants help in retaining the fertile topsoil not only in the forest but also in the neighboring fields (farms). The dead remains of plants, when decomposed, add to the fertility of the soil by releasing the important elements they contain (e.g Carbon and Nitrogen) to the soil. The forest trees transpire a significant quantity of water through their leaves, thus adding to the moisture in the atmosphere and bringing rain. Leguminous plants have special nodules (swellings) in their root system which contain nitrogen–fixing bacteria. These functions of plants are essential for the continuity of agricultural activities.HabitatPlants and plant communities provide the necessary habitat (a place to live) for different animals, including wildlife and many aquatic organisms.
Regional climates are under threat by the amount and type of plant cover. Forests and marshes, for example, can cool local climates. Natural disasters, such as drought and global warming have been blamed on the destruction of forests and other critically important plant communities.
The word “ecosystem” refers to a self–sustaining system whereby plants, microbes (normal flora), and animals live together, supporting and interacting with each other and with the non-living factors (e.g water, air, light, and temperature). Every species and factor serves an important role or purpose in the community. They serve as the primary producers play a major role in any ecological system by providing the primary source of food and oxygen as well as purifying the environment for the entire system.
Ecoremediation is a technological process that tends to pair phytoremediation with ecosystem restoration. In this process, diverse indigenous and locally adapted plant species are used to clean up (remove) contaminants. Which can be heavy metals and petroleum hydrocarbons from contaminated soils or groundwater (phytoremediation). But at the same time, reclaim derelict or deserted lands (ecosystem–restoration), for environmental sustainability and biodiversity conservation.
Carbon dioxide (CO2)
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is one of the main greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. As you know, plants take in CO2 and release oxygen through the process of photosynthesis. This CO2 is a building block for new tissues such as their trunk, branches, leaves, and roots that act as carbon stores.
When forests undergo the process of pruning or burning, huge amounts of carbon in plant tissue and the soil dissipate into the atmosphere. This is why it is so important to protect these habitats, especially in ancient primary forests. As a native species that has had very little human existence in the past. This one is of great importance to plants in the ecosystem.
Photosynthesis is the process that green plants use to convert light into chemical energy, as an energy-rich sugar, necessary for growth. Specifically, the green color in plants results from a chemical called chlorophyll. Whereas Chlorophyll absorbs the blue and red parts of the light spectrum but reflects green light, making most plants appear green. Thus, photosynthesis consumes carbon dioxide as part of the process and emits oxygen as a byproduct.
An important byproduct of photosynthesis is oxygen. According to sources, a single large tree can produce enough oxygen for four people in one day. Additionally, without plants, humans, and animals would have less air to breathe. And through the process of photosynthesis, plants release oxygen back into the atmosphere.
What you don’t know is that plants from the sea are the ones that provide the most of the air we breathe. The single-cell plants that flourish in the sea are also known as phytoplankton. Green terrestrial plants create atmospheric oxygen, which is essential for the survival of living organisms.
The green wonders improve air quality through several mechanisms: they increase humidity by transferring water vapor. Mainly, through microscopic leaf pores, they absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen through photosynthesis. But plants are not for indoor use, not for air-purifying abilities, but for appearance and survival ability.
Some of the major air-purifying green wonders that contribute to the ecosystem in cleansing the air quality are; Philodendron, Snake plant, Peace lily, Rubber plant, Dracaena, which are indoor plants.
Erosion and Drought Control
Plants protect the soil from erosion caused by heavy rains or wind by acting as soil stabilizers. They prevent or reduce soil erosion in the following ways:
The roots hold the soil particles together, preventing them from being washed away;
Leaves and branches take much of the force of the falling rain, thus checking the loosening of topsoil;
Trunks reduce the force of flowing waters, thus checking soil erosion;
Tall trees reduce the wind velocity during storms. And thus, controlling the moisture released into the air by trees (during transpiration) stabilizes rainfall. Thereby decreasing the episodes of drought.
The extensive root systems of higher plants and the networks formed by many types of grass (e.g Cynodon dactylon) on the ground surface. In turn, they reduce flooding and wind–related damage by holding soil in place, and by absorbing through their roots and canopies significant volumes of water.
Plants are extremely important to the quality of the water we use. A diverse cover of plants aids in maintaining healthy watersheds, streams, and lakes by holding soil in place, controlling stream flows, and filtering sediments from water (Tanner, 2001).
Cooling the surrounding air
Trees and other vegetation reduce atmospheric temperatures, thereby cooling the surrounding environment in four ways: They trap carbon dioxide (the major component of greenhouse gases) from the atmosphere for their photosynthesis. This reduces carbon, causing the greenhouse effect. Furthermore, trees use solar energy (sunlight) for photosynthesis, converting the energy into food (carbohydrate) and oxygen, thereby reducing the effect of the sun on sunny days. Additionally, trees provide shade, thereby cooling nearby surfaces as well as use evapotranspiration to cool themselves and the surrounding air.
Plants are the best tools for surrounding our houses, farms, and plots of land because they proffer many advantages over cement walls or barbed steel wire. Phyto–fencing is cheaper when compared to other forms of the fence and the plant’s help in cleansing the surrounding air by absorbing many gaseous pollutants from the atmosphere. Specifically, bamboo, when used, gives us building material and its leaves are good fodder for cattle and goats. The pytho-fence can act as a windbreaker; in addition to protection against intruders, it serves as a shelterbelt. Furthermore, multipurpose and thorny plants are also useful for phyto fencing.
As clearly evident from the significance of the plants in the vast ecosystem, there is a need to be harmonious with the environment. There is an increasing need to preserve, conserve and protect the green sparkly wonders of the world. Making a conscientious effort to plant, nurture and grow living beings such as plants is the need of the hour. In particular, the pandemic has taught us everything. We should stop taking nature and the species its habitat too lightly. The stillness of the world taught people to take stock of their surroundings and made them aware of their impact on the precious depleting natural resource that benefits humans, but we tend to pillage the resource to the point of deletion.