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THE IMPORTANCE OF PLANTS

 


Plants are essential to the balance of nature and in people's lives. Green plants, i.e., those possessing chlorophyll, manufacture their own food and give off oxygen in the process called photosynthesis, in which water and carbon dioxide are combined by the energy of light. Plants are the ultimate source of food and metabolic energy for nearly all animals, which cannot manufacture their own food. Besides foods (e.g., grains, fruits, and vegetables), plant products vital to humans include wood and wood products, fibers, drugs, oils, latex, pigments, and resins. Coal and petroleum are fossil substances of plant origin. Thus plants provide people not only sustenance but shelter, clothing, medicines, fuels, and the raw materials from which innumerable other products are made.

Plants communities are particularly vulnerable to climate change, as they obviously cannot migrate as quickly as most animal species. And mountain-top species are also at high risk as they are adapted to cold whether and, often, effectively trapped on "sky islands." This vulnerablilty is well illustrated by the whitebark pine, a fast disappearing species of tree that NRDC is working to conserve.

It directly concerns every person alive today. Between 25-50% of modern medicines are derived from plants. Indeed, of the top 150 prescribed drugs in the United State nearly 60% were originally derived from plants. We're talking about drugs we all take for granted, like digitalis, which treates heart disease (foxglove), and l-dopa, which is used to combat Parkinson's (vanilla bean), as well as cancer treatments, such as taxol (derived from the Pacific Yew tree). You can read more about the medical value of plants here.