IMPORTANCE OF PLANTS
The study of plant uses by people is termed economic botany or ethnobotany. Economic botany focuses mainly on uses of modern cultivated plants, while ethnobotany studies uses of indigenous plants by native peoples. Human cultivation of plants is part of agriculture, which is the basis of human civilization.
Virtually all human nutrition depends on land plants directly or indirectly. Much of human nutrition depends on cereals, especially maize or corn, wheat and rice or other staple crops such as potato, cassava, and legumes. Other parts from plants that are eaten include fruits, vegetables, nuts, herbs, spices and edible flowers. Beverages from plants include coffee, tea, wine, beer and alcohol. Sugar is obtained mainly from sugar cane and sugar beet. Cooking oils and margarine come from corn, soybean, canola, safflower, sunflower, olive and others.
Wood is used for buildings, furniture, paper, cardboard, musical instruments and sports equipment. Cloth is often made from cotton, flax or synthetic fibers derived from cellulose, such as rayon and acetate. Renewable fuels from plants include firewood, peat and many other biofuels. Coal and petroleum are fossil fuels derived from plants. Medicines derived from plants include aspirin, taxol, morphine, quinine, reserpine, colchicine, digitalis and vincristine. There are hundreds of herbal supplements such as ginkgo, Echinacea, feverfew, and Saint John''s wort. Pesticides derived from plants include nicotine, rotenone, strychnine and pyrethrins. Drugs obtained from plants include opium, cocaine and marijuana. Poisons from plants include ricin, hemlock and curare. Plants are the source of many natural products such as fibers, essential oils, dyes, pigments, waxes, tannins, latex, gums, resins, alkaloids, amber and cork. Products derived from plants include soaps, paints, shampoos, perfumes, cosmetics, turpentine, rubber, varnish, lubricants, linoleum, plastics, inks, chewing gum and hemp rope.
Thousands of plant species are cultivated to beautify the human environment as well as to provide shade, modify temperatures, reduce windspeed, abate noise, provide privacy and prevent soil erosion.
People use cut flowers, dried flowers and house plants indoors. Images of plants are often used in art, architecture, humor, language and photography and on textiles, money, stamps, flags and coats of arms. Living plant art forms include topiary, bonsai, ikebana and espalier. Ornamental plants have sometimes changed the course of history, as in tulipomania. Plants are the basis of a multi-billion dollar per year tourism industry which includes travel to arboretums, botanical gardens, historic gardens, national parks, tulip festivals, rainforests, forests with colorful autumn leaves and the National Cherry Blossom Festival. Venus flytrap, sensitive plant and resurrection plant are examples of plants sold as novelties.
Scientific and cultural uses
Tree rings are an important method of dating in archeology and serve as a record of past climates. Basic biological research has often been done with plants, such as the pea plants used to derive Gregor Mendel''s laws of genetics. Space stations or space colonies may one day rely on plants for life support. Plants are used as national and state emblems, including state trees and state flowers. Ancient trees are revered and many are famous. Numerous world records are held by plants. Plants are often used as memorials, gifts and to mark special occasions such as births, deaths, weddings and holidays. Plants figure prominently in mythology, religion and literature. The field of ethnobotany studies plant use by indigenous cultures which helps to conserve endangered species as well as discover new medicinal plants. Working with plants or horticulture therapy is beneficial for rehabilitating people with disabilities. Certain plants contain psychotropic chemicals which are extracted ingested, including tobacco, cannabis (marijuana), and opium.