[Updated: 5 July 2020]
Plants are an invaluable species helping sustain life on the planet Earth, a feat which distinguishes it from all other planets.
Plants help the Earth in various different ways by reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and also producing oxygen in the process (photosynthesis).
Plants help keep the water cycle running by producing water vapors from their leaves which eventually go higher up into the atmosphere (transpiration) and transform into clouds which then causes torrential rainfall.
Their importance to the humans, animals and to Earth is immense and here we will look at how plants help our environment.
1. Oxygen production by plants
Almost all oxygen produced for the planet comes from plants.
Plants make oxygen through the process of photosynthesis in the presence of sunlight. The plants will use carbon dioxide and water and will convert them into sugars and oxygen under sunlight.
Oxygen released as a byproduct by plants during photosynthesis can then be utilized by animals, humans and other diverse organisms to survive and respire aerobically.
What is surprising that most of the planets’ oxygen production is carried out by single-celled plants residing in the oceans called phytoplanktons while the remainder of the oxygen produced into the atmosphere is made by green plants.
This process is vital for sustainable life on earth. Without plants; there will be no photosynthesis, and without photosynthesis, no oxygen will be produced.
This will make it impossible for any living being dependent on oxygen to survive.
2. Their ability to store Carbon
We all must face the harsh truth that climate change is very real and is very much happening and people should stop considering it as a hoax and accept it for what it is.
Climate change is the result of our high reliance on fossils fuels and ultimate production and release of high amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere which has led to a greenhouse effect damaging our climate in more ways than one can imagine.
While we are still trying to figure out how to combat climate change and keep our diverse landscapes and climate safe from it, plants are the most important combatants against this threat.
Plants are considered as a carbon sink meaning they can store high amounts of carbon and can utilize it during photosynthesis, thereby reducing the amount of atmospheric carbon on the planet.
There are a variety of plants and ecosystems consisting of plants which are acting as carbon sinks to reduce the greenhouse effect caused by carbon. These include tropical rainforests, coral reefs, wetlands and coastal habitats.
3. Plants provide us with food
Plants are primary producers.
This means that they make their own food and also provide us with food.
Herbivores such as deer eat the plants which are enriched with nutritional food providing them with energy. Herbivores can then be consumed by other animals, providing those animals with energy thus creating a food chain or web which was started by plants due to their ability to make their own food using sunlight.
Humans also consume plants due to the high amount of nutritional values they possess.
Plants make their own food through the previously mentioned process of photosynthesis. They then have the option to extract energy from the food produced immediately through respiration or can store them for future use.
4. Source of Habitat for Animals
Plants play a penultimate role in almost all of the ecosystems on the earth. Plants provide animals and humans with a sustainable habitat in which they can live, reproduce and find food.
Plants provide animals with shelter and a place to live free from predation from other wildlife that may feed on them. Birds may be able to make nests on large trees where they may be able to lay their eggs free from any danger of being eaten by other species. They are the major camouflage for preys to hide effectively.
Unfortunately, habitats are being destroyed due to reasons such as deforestation or desertification which is causing countless animals to lose their homes.
5. The Water Cycle
The water cycle is basically a circle of processes that happen to ensure continuous movement of water, in different forms (ice, water, vapors), among different water bodies including rivers, seas, oceans and even clouds.
These processes are Evaporation and Transpiration (described below).
Here’s how the water cycle works;
Plants take up groundwater from the soil through their roots. Plants use this water for various metabolic processes and excessive water is released by plant into the atmosphere in the form of water vapor through the aerial parts of the plants in a process known as transpiration.
This way plants returns water back to the atmosphere which it had taken up from the soil. This way about 10% of the water in the form of water vapor is returned to the atmosphere.
This way plants help to keep the atmosphere warm in winters and cool in summers. They are also the source of rainfall in various capacities.
Water bodies such as rivers, lakes, seas and oceans all benefit from these processes as they are able to replenish their stock of water. The water returned in the form of snow and rainfall also becomes pure in the process.
And don’t forget, the groundwater is also replenished in this process.
Plants are a valuable entity for us but sadly we are not giving it the value it deserves.
Plants and trees are chopped down regularly to make way for household purposes, for communities or agricultural lands.
Deforestation has also led to increased soil erosion, thus making plant growth more difficult due to the loss of nutrients in the soil making it less fertile and insufficient for plant growth.
Because of how plants help our environment and our ecosystems, we must protect it as a valuable asset for all life on the planet.