Why People Need Plants

WPNPIt Seems Obvious, But…

Back in the day, when I was boring college undergraduates, I typically started my botany class something like this:

“Do you like chocolate? How about vanilla? Did you have some coffee before class? Did you drink a little too much beer or wine or Jack Daniels last night? Did you have to take some aspirin this morning? Are you wearing cotton jeans, T-shirt, or both? Do you drive a gasoline-powered car? Do you live in a house or apartment constructed, at least in part, with wood? Do you have wooden furniture? Or maybe it’s made out of plastic (which is derived from oil). And do I presume correctly that you enjoy eating food and breathing oxygen?

All of the above – food, spices, alcoholic beverages, most medicines, gasoline, oil, fibers (from cotton to wood), oxygen in the atmosphere, and, yes, even plastics – are ultimately derived from green plants.

It’s kind of bizarre that we have to justify teaching botany and studying plant sciences by first reminding people how absolutely dependent they are on plants. But then again, considering most people’s lack of awareness of plants (see previous post, for example), perhaps it’s not so bizarre after all.

Back when I was teaching, I wish I had had the following book available to help explain to my students why people need plants. This, perhaps not surprisingly, is actually the title of the book.

I learned about Why People Need Plants through Nigel Chaffey’s review in the January 2012 issue of Annals of Botany. So, I’ll direct you there if you’d like a thorough review of this book.

I was delighted to find that Henderson Books, a local bookstore, had a copy.

Briefly, Why People Need Plants is divided into four parts: 1) Uses of plants, 2) Plants and health, 3) Modern techniques in plant biology, and 4) Plants and the planet.

Some notable chapters include the following. One is called “Plants in Crime” written by none other than perhaps England’s foremost forensic botanist Patricia E. J. Wiltshire, whom I mentioned in a previous post. Another chapter is a brilliant introduction to, and discussion of the impacts of, genetically-modified plants. And there is also a chapter on plant conservation, followed by a fascinating chapter on plant collecting and trading, featuring profiles of several professional plant collectors.

As one would expect from a book published by the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, Why People Need Plants is expertly written and lushly illustrated with color photographs and figures.

I’m currently unaware of a better book as a concise introduction to the world of plants and why we need them.

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