February 26, 2013 | Panayoti Kelaidis, Senior Curator & Director of Outreach

There are not many people living today who have made as enormous a contribution to the well being of Planet Earth as Jane Goodall: E.O. Wilson, perhaps. And we botanic gardeners must pay our respects to Peter Raven. Jane has not only focused the awareness of Science on the plight of the creature most closely related to Human Beings, she has worked tirelessly to make the natural environment a priority for everyone. And she has made her work look effortless and joyful.

She has just published a wonderful tribute to the Plant Kingdom in the latest Smithsonian Magazine. "Jane Goodall reveals her lifelong fascination with ....plants"is full of Jane's characteristic charm, information and interest.

I wish I could say the same for that incredibly patronizing headline for the article: Goodness me! Plants actually are.....fascinating? Dontcha know in our whiz-bang, glitzy culture, the only things that can capture the "fascination" of 'οι πολλοί' [that's hoi polloi] are bright shiny objects, electronic gadgets, fast cars, bad television and sex in any manifestation. Of course, wise botanists know that flowers are shiny bright objects that are all about sex and as compact as any electrical gadget and abuzz with fast moving insects that put the sleekest car to shame with their posh styling.

Unlike the great unwashed masses of naive journalists and other publicist sorts who seem to think that plants are remarkably uninteresting--zoologists like Jane are very aware and appreciative of the plant kingdom. After all, every animal on this planet depends on plants for sustenance (--especially humans, and not just vegetarians).

Plants provide us with the carbohydrates that nourish our bodies. They produce the oxygen that fills our lungs (without which we would be dead in a matter of minutes). They produce the fiber that clothes us and directly or indirectly most of what shields us from the elements. Plants possess chlorophyll, which is as miraculous a substance, performing a function that puts all human ingenuity to shame (taking a bit of water, air and sunlight and generating hydrocarbons). I have been astonished all my life at the depth of knowledge most zoologists possess of plants and the plant kingdom--especially since most botanists I know are not terribly savvy about animals.

I'm getting off my soapbox now! Do read her article--it's really cool (and relevant!).


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