Life on Earth: Powered by plants

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  Posted by: The Probe      19th May 2021

Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have learned to fully appreciate green spaces, with 42% of adults in England having reported that, “nature and wildlife is more important than ever to my wellbeing”.[1] Given that plants are such a ubiquitous part of our daily lives, it can be easy to take them for granted and forget about the vital role they play in maintaining our planet’s delicate ecosystem, which has enabled us to thrive as a species for thousands of years. In fact, plants serve much broader and more significant purposes than simply being a source of joy.

Air

Humans and animals simply wouldn’t survive without air to breathe, which mainly consists of 78% nitrogen and 21% oxygen. As plants absorb sunlight and convert it into energy through a process called photosynthesis, they release oxygen into the air as a by-product of their metabolism. In turn, we inhale the oxygen – which is transported to all the cells in our body by the blood stream – and exhale carbon dioxide that plants also feed on to grow. This mutually beneficial relationship is one of several key factors that enable life to be sustained on Earth.

Climate

Excess carbon dioxide that is released into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels has been blamed for contributing to climate change. Not only do plants feed off of carbon dioxide, but they also store vast amounts of this greenhouse gas within their tissues and the soil they are rooted in. Scientists believe that plants have slowed the rate of global warming by absorbing the excess carbon dioxide produced by human activities.[2]

To put it into perspective, the world’s largest rainforest – the Amazon – stores an estimated 150 to 200 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide. However, continued deforestation of the Amazon means that up to a fifth of the rainforest is now thought to be emitting more carbon dioxide than it absorbs.[3] This indicates that plants are struggling to keep pace with increasing carbon emissions, which has implications on our efforts to maintain the temperate climate we rely on to live.

Water

You might not realise it but plants contribute significantly to the water cycle. In areas with thick plant cover, the foliage breaks the force of rain falling on the ground, which may otherwise cause soil erosion. Moreover, plants’ root systems absorb water collected below ground level, and their leaves release this moisture into the atmosphere as water vapours via the process known as transpiration. These water vapours contribute to the formation of clouds that provide life-sustaining rainfall. When land is deforested, less moisture is released and rainfall declines, sometimes leading to drought – an issue that is currently affecting the Amazon rainforest.[4]

Habitat

Plants do not simply provide natural habitats for our beloved wildlife, but also serve as a vital source of building materials – many modern homes are constructed from timber frames, for example. Moreover, trees and tall shrubbery can shelter buildings from the harsh elements to prevent rapid deterioration. In that same vein, plants can be used to ward off intruders, acting as an environmentally friendly alternative to metal or plastic fencing.

Health and wellbeing

The benefits of plants to our health and wellbeing are innumerable. The fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and grains that we harvest from plants and consume enable us to maintain a healthy diet that fuels our bodies. Research has demonstrated that the simple act of being surrounded by plant life can boost physical and mental health by reducing anxiety and stress, as well as improving mood and self-esteem. Workers in offices with natural elements such as plants are not only 6% more productive and 15% more creative, but also report a 15% higher level of wellbeing.[5] Forest environments can even promote lower blood pressure, heart rate and muscle tension.[6], [7]

Furthermore, many of the medicines we use to combat disease and illness are yielded from plants. For instance, salicylic acid – a key component of the well-known painkiller, aspirin – comes from willow tree bark. The poppy plant is used to produce strong opiates such as morphine and codeine. Furthermore, some of the modern drugs currently used to treat malaria are derived from the Qinghao plant and the cinchona tree, whose medicinal values have been noted for centuries. Within dentistry, the ‘Perio plus’ range of mouth rinses contain Citrox® – a natural bioflavonoid extracted from bitter oranges – creating a powerful formula that is optimised to protect the oral cavity from plaque.

Protect plant power

We encounter plants in some form or another every day, whether at home, in parks or across the wild outback of nature. Air, climate, water, habitat, health and wellbeing are just some of the many elements of life that plants are able to influence. The COVID-19 pandemic and associated restrictions on our ability to access green spaces are a stark reminder of how valuable plants really are, which is why it is more important than ever that we protect and preserve our environment.

 

For more information please call 01480 862084, email info@curaprox.co.uk or visit www.perioplus.com/uk

 

Author Dawn Woodward National Sales manager Curaprox UK

 

[1] Gov.uk. (2020) The People and Nature Survey for England: Monthly interim indicators for July 2020 (Experimental Statistics). Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/the-people-and-nature-survey-for-england-monthly-interim-indicators-for-july-2020-experimental-statistics/the-people-and-nature-survey-for-england-monthly-interim-indicators-for-july-2020-experimental-statistics. [Last accessed: 23.02.21].

 

[2] Chen, C. and Myneni, R. (2020) As Our Planet Gets Greener, Plants Are Slowing Global Warming. The Brink. Available at:

http://www.bu.edu/articles/2020/plants-are-slowing-global-warming/#:~:text=It%20seems%20to%20be%20that,0.2%20to%200.25%20degrees%20Celsius. [Last accessed: 23.02.21].

 

[3] Gatehouse, G. (2020) Deforested parts of Amazon ‘emitting more CO2 than they absorb’. BBC News. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-51464694. [Last accessed: 23.02.21].

 

[4] Hanbury, S. (2020) Scientists measure Amazon drought and de-forestation feedback loop: Study. Mongabay. Available at: https://news.mongabay.com/2020/07/scientists-measure-amazon-drought-and-deforestation-feedback-loop-study/#:~:text=The%20Amazon%20has%20been%20a,to%20the%20rainforest%2C%20and%20soon.&text=The%20study%20concluded%20that%20deforestation,rain%20in%20the%20Amazon%20biome. [Last accessed: 23.02.21].

 

[5] Browning, B. and Cooper, C. (2015) HUMAN SPACES: The Global impact of Biophilic Design in the Workplace. Available at: https://greenplantsforgreenbuildings.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Human-Spaces-Report-Biophilic-Global_Impact_Biophilic_Design.pdf. [Last accessed: 23.02.21].

 

[6] Karjalainen, E. et al. (2010) Promoting human health through forests: overview and major challenges. Environ Health Prev Med. 15(1): 1­–8. DOI: 10.1007/s12199-008-0069-2.

 

[7] Park, B. J., Tsunetsugu, Y., Kasetani, T., Kagawa, T. and Miyazaki, Y. (2010) The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing): evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan. Environ Health Prev Med. 15(1): 18–26. DOI: 10.1007/s12199-009-0086-9.


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