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Value of Plants

Types of Plants

Extinction and Declines

Human Impacts

Conservation of Plants





And toward the sun, which kindlier burns,
The earth awaking, looks and yearns,
And still, as in all other Aprils,
The annual miracle returns.

-Elizabeth Akers

Value of Plants

Plants are often valued directly for what we can build with them, their ability to provide us with nutrition or their appearance.  However, plants also serve a critical role in our ecosystem as the primary producers - converting raw solar energy into food for animals, and of course humans too.  By hydrolyzing water molecules during photosynthesis plants "breathe out" oxygen, the very gas that animals need for survival. Plants also help purify the polluted air of our cities and our homes.
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Although many forests are valued based on the price for lumber, forests are worth more than the sum of their trees.

Types of Plants

Looking at any vegetated area the flora can be divided into groupings by the level to which they typically grow.  Trees are usually the tallest plants and can grow to hundreds of feet in height and live for thousands of years. Lower in the vegetation are woody stemmed plants that typically grow only in the understory of a forest, and even when they are found elsewhere never grow more than about fifteen feet in height. Finally, the forest floor can be covered by wildflowers that life one or more years. There are numerous "other" types of plants including ferns, mosses, and cacti that defy consistent classification, but deserve mention.

Some plants have been identified by people as being special for their abilities to bear edible crops or for their distinctive and attractive appearances.  These plants have often diverged greatly from their natural relatives and can be divided into those sought for the value as food and those relished for their visual appeal.

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Plant Extinctions and Declines

Plants have many advantages over animals in species survival.  Many plants can survive for long periods of time as seeds. However, plants are not nearly as nimble as animals and cannot migrate when weather changes.  Changes in rain or temperature can cause a population to dwindle or go extinct.  However, the largest causes of plant extinction are 1) introduction of disease, and 2) changes in habitat.
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As wetlands are filled and fires suppressed, habitat is lost and many plants, including the carnivorous Pitcher plants are in danger of going extinct.

Human Impacts on Plants

People have had tremendous direct impacts on plants.  By harvesting trees for lumber forests have often been simplified with many "old growth" habitats and species being lost.  Cultivation of plants has led to the narrowing of genetic diversity, leaving plants with little if any ability to respond to novel diseases and other changes. Landscaping has led to nearly sterile environments around our homes where trees grow, but no fruit or seeds appear and thus no wildlife. By tinkering with the flora, we have endangered wildlife, and possibly our own survival.
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In our search for the perfect flower people have literally "created" new varieties of plants. These sunflowers are much larger than those found in the wild.

The Conservation of Plants

Different species typically require different methods of conservation.  There are three primary ways people have tried to conserve, restore and protect plants: 

While there is much discussion about which single conservation method is best for wildlife, there is considerable value in using a diversity of approaches and techniques for protecting the flora.
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Stumps are all that is left of many Giant Sequoias cut in the 1890's. Without the transpiration of these giant trees the water table in this meadow has risen and today only grass grows here.

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