Plants | Earth Day Network

What You Need to Know About Plants and Why We Need to Protect Them

Facts About Plants

  • The largest flowering plant in the world is the Rafflesia Arnoldi, which measures up to one meter in diameter![1]
  • Plants are essential for life on Earth, providing us with the food we eat, the medicines we use, and the oxygen we breathe.[2]
  • There are more than 390,000 different species of plants,[3] with 2,000 new species discovered annually.[4]
  • An estimated 8,800 different plant species are threatened with extinction.[5]

Why We Need to Protect Plants

  • Role in the Ecosystem: Plants are central to the function of the biosphere and are an essential part of daily life, providing us with clean air, and food.
  • Ecosystem Services: Plants provide several provisional and cultural services. Various plant species provide a substantive amount of the world’s fruits, nuts, and agricultural crops. Additionally, many plants are central ingredients in herbal and pharmaceutical medicines. Culturally, plants have been used as therapeutic agents, an inspiration for the arts, and in religious and spiritual ceremonies.[6]
  • Economic Contribution: Plants are an extremely valuable economic commodity. In 2017, the United States exported plant-based agricultural products totaling $138 billion.[7] In the Netherlands alone, the country exported $9.4 billion worth of plants and flowers in 2016.[8]
  • Uniqueness: Plants are visually and ecologically beautiful in function and design. The perception of beauty garners a sense of pleasure and each of us can associate a happy or meaningful memory with a plant, from the joy of giving a loved one a bouquet of flowers to gardening or cutting flowers for our home. [9]

Threats to Plants

  • Climate Change: Rising temperatures as a result of global warming, are affecting the distribution of certain species. Degrading fertile soil from droughts and rising sea levels is threatening plants across the globe.[10] Climate change threatens to reduce global crop production by 23% in the coming decades.[11]
  • Habitat Loss: The threat of habitat loss comes in many forms — from urban and agricultural development to destructive fires — and is estimated to be the primary threat for 83% of endangered plant species.[12] Unlike animals, plants cannot easily move or adapt to their habitat when threatened. Because of this, habitat destruction intensifies the number of extinctions, severely limiting the future recovery of the habitat.[13]
  • Invasive Species: Non-native species, also known as alien or invasive species, can be introduced to an ecosystem intentionally or unintentionally. The impacts of non-native species can be significant and potentially damaging. Through competition for scarce resources or altering the physical environment, invasive species can accelerate the decline of native plant species.[14]
  • Pollution: The threats from pollution can affect the health of plants both above and below ground. Pesticides and insecticides can harm the survival of plants by killing either the plants themselves or the pollinators that plants depend on to reproduce. Indirectly, the contamination of soil from chemical or hazardous pollutants can greatly harm the health of plants and the ecosystems they support.[15]
  • Crop Patents Threatening Biodiversity: Within the last few years, legal rulings in North America and the EU have allowed genetically modified plants to be patented. Although food patents themselves are not new, the extension of these patent rights discourages biodiversity by reducing the number of plant species available to cross-breed.[16]

What You Can Do to Help Protect Plants

  • Sign Earth Day Network’s Pesticide Pledge to help reduce the amount of pesticides that kill insects like pollinators and contribute to soil, water and vegetation contamination.
  • Support native plants: Growing native plants is a significant and cost-effective way to help save plants. Native plants are adapted to local soil and climate conditions, require less water, and improve air quality while promoting biodiversity and beautifying the landscape.
  • Purchase sustainable plant products: Being an informed consumer and knowing your plants and plant-based products is an important first step. When purchasing teas, herbal medicines, beauty products or other plant-based products, make sure to check the label for sustainable certification.