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Plants play an essential role in air, food, medicines and mental health.

From the air we breathe to the food we eat to the medicines we use and the beauty we seek, plants are essential to life.

Plants sequester gases such as CO2 that affect the atmosphere and acidify the ocean, and they make food in the form of sugars or carbohydrates and produce breathable oxygen.

Plants make their own food, and they make food for us. The basic food for all organisms is produced by plants. In fact, humans can survive on a purely vegetarian diet.

Plants harness energy from the sun and use their roots to take up water and minerals from the ground while their leaves absorb carbon dioxide from the air, a byproduct of human respiration and other processes such as combustion that keeps our vehicles moving. Carbon dioxide can become dangerous when levels are elevated, causing respiratory issues for humans as well as affecting our atmosphere.

In these days of climate change, plants have been shown to help combat global warming by soaking up greenhouse gas emissions. Plants help cool the atmosphere indirectly when they transpire and release water vapor.

Plants continue to be studied in an effort to understand their role in reducing carbon dioxide emissions in addition to the relationship of deforestation, reforestation, agricultural practices and the impacts of the urbanization of large cities on climate change and global warming.

Even when plants die, they decompose with the help of microorganisms, becoming organic matter that includes the three main fertilizer nutrients — nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.

When composted, these decomposed plants can be incorporated into the soil, providing nutrients to plants and helping the soil retain moisture while improving drainage and aerating plant roots.

Plants also produce the wood that builds our homes and fuel that heats it and cooks our food. And, from plants come many of the fibers used to make our clothes.

Plants also have been used since the dawn of ages for medicinal purposes. Of the 122 plant-derived drugs, 80% were discovered and passed down through the ages. And they continue to be studied for their medicinal purposes.

Plants also make up a large part of the ecosystem that supports wildlife. Forests, lawns, marshes, bayous and other habitats support biotic communities. The relationship and interaction between plants and animals include food and protection. Not only do these ecosystems support birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals, but they also support insects.

According to the Smithsonian Institution, insects have the largest biomass of terrestrial animals, with an estimated 10 quintillion individual insects alive in a given day.

Insects and plants have some of the most complex relationships, evolutionarily speaking. Pollinators are responsible for 1 out of every 3 bites of food we eat.

In addition to all of these tangibles, plants are important to our aesthetics. Flowers are among the No. 1 gifts given in every culture.

According to FTD, a language of flowers called floriography was developed as a form of communication during the Victorian Age when it was inappropriate, impolite or improper etiquette for people to express their emotions with one another. 

Nature has been studied by health care researchers and practitioners to understand how they help us heal physically and mentally.

Spending time in nature or out in your garden can offer mental restoration, improving our emotional processing while enhancing our ability to respond and rebound after difficulties, such as stress or illness.


Email questions to gardennews@agcenter.lsu.edu.