September 5, 2008 | Dominique Bayne, Former Senior Horticulturist

Are plants important? If so, why?

These seem like odd questions considering my career, but they have been on my mind a lot lately. To me plants are part of who I am; I have no interest in a planet without wild areas, without diversity, these are the things that give life color. Recent conversations have indicated that many people do not feel this way and want justification for spending resources on plant conservation and habitat restoration.

I occasionally get labeled 'treehugger' (is that a bad thing?) and the assumption is made that I want to preserve plants for the sake of it, because I am emotionally attached. Is this the case or are there real reasons relevant to humanity as a whole to conserve and restore?

This is large topic, much too big for a blog, so I am just going to touch on a couple of things. I would love for others to give me their opinions too - are plants important to you? Why or why not?

Photosynthesis - Plants are the basis of the food chain. Animals cannot eat sunlight, plants can and we can eat plants.

Oxygen - Plants provide the oxygen we breathe.

Ok, so plants are important, but why do we need so many different kinds, wouldn't a few do the job?

No, not really, the fewer plants we have the more susceptible they are to disease and pestilence. Biodiversity offers the chance that whilst most of one species may be wiped out by a disease, there might be some that have evolved more resistance and make it through. Biodiversity helps to ensure that even if something becomes extinct in one part of the world an alternative may exist elsewhere.

Surely it does not matter if we lose a few species though?

Ecosystems are highly interdependent. Each time something goes extinct other species are threatened. Species are currently going extinct at rate never witnessed in human history - a rate similar to the time when dinosaurs went extinct.

What can we do? Most people reading this probably understand most of this -  this is after all a Botanic Gardens website. There are many people who do not - I think the easiest way to raise awareness of the importance of plants is to teach people to love plants. Bring your friends to the Gardens, show them why you think plants are cool. I have a hope that through visiting the Gardens and connecting with plants in their everyday life that no one will need to ask these questions and that everyone will intuitively understand that life without plants is impossible. If you want to be more active check out what our Research team is doing and consider volunteering with them.


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