We all feel a deep sense of contentment when we see a forested area or a large swathe of green. We know that trees provide essential habitat for wildlife and that the beauty of the natural world is underpinned by vegetation.
But how many of us stop to consider the vital role that all kinds of plants play in our lives? There is a good chance that you are sitting on plant material, wearing plant material or digesting plant material right now. Plants are not just something nice and green that sit outside our windows, they are our permanent partners in life.
Did you start your morning with a nice cup of tea or coffee? We buy these products off the shelves of our supermarkets but not many of us stop to think that tea comes directly from the leaves of a plant (Camellia sinensis) and coffee from the seeds of a plant (Coffea arabica).
At work or school or home it’s likely you have some wooden furniture, made from trees. But when you sit down to make some notes and take out your paper, wooden pencil and rubber eraser, do you consider that all of these items come from plants too? Even if you are working on your computer or switching on a light you are using plants. In Australia, about 75% of our electricity is produced by burning coal – which is produced when decaying plant matter is converted to peat and then to coal over millions of years of heat, pressure and burial.
After a hard day at work you may have a headache and decide to take some aspirin. The bark of the willow tree is the original source of aspirin (salicin) and has been used as a painkiller for many centuries. Many other medicines are derived from plants too (e.g. morphine from the poppy Papaver somniferum and quinine from Cinchona trees).
You might be looking forward to sipping on a glass of wine while roasting some delicious vegetables to have with your pasta tonight. It would definitely occur to you that your vegetables come from plants. But your pasta also comes from plants. And so does your wine, the cork from your wine bottle and even the oil you are roasting your vegetables in!
With the fires that have ravaged Australia many of us are feeling devastated at the loss of huge areas of natural bushland. Our bushland provides wildlife habitat, oxygen, carbon storage and so much more. But these are not the only plants we rely on. In every sphere of our lives we rely on a massive range of plants – for food, shelter, medicine, fuel and more. Please take a moment to appreciate what a big role plants play in your life and then spread the word: if everyone realised just how much our lives are intertwined with the lives of plants then perhaps we would be inspired to take better care of our planet.