Can you imagine life without plants and trees?
Travel refreshes the soul, whether by car, bus, train, motorcycle, horse, or just by feet. People often travel along village streets, city boulevards, national highways, countryside roads and rails, and feel refreshed...without really knowing why. They simply feel refreshed, and they don't think much of it. It takes a higher level of awareness and, perhaps, an appreciative heart to realize––it's the view.
Try traveling inside a closed container van without windows, or in the trunk of car, and that refreshing feeling wouldn't be coming up. Instead, a creeping, grinding exhaustion takes its place. So...what's with the view? What's in it?
A Beautiful World
The world's beauty fascinates, and we see more of it as we travel. Everyone with sight can perceive the varying colors of scenery go by during transit, the trees that line highways or the shrub-filled bluffs, or the rolling green meadows that stretch out to the horizon. But it takes a very grateful pair of eyes to realize one of the greatest blessings we have in this world: plant life.
In the verdant tapestry of nature's grand symphony, plants are the virtuoso performers, captivating our senses with their unparalleled beauty. Who isn’t refreshed by greenery in the scenery?
The soft, emerald grass that perennially carpets the earth––in the wild, in gardens and lawns––instantly relaxes the eyes; mesmerizes with gentle sways at the brush of wind; and amazes with colors that change in reciprocity to the sun’s dance across the sky. The plants and shrubs, the flowers and fruits, in varieties so infinite it boggles the mind, adorn the world with colors and shapes that leave even the most imaginative minds awe-struck. And the trees! Oh, the trees…
Trees, in all their shapes and forms, may rise as a uniform grove, or as a wildly assorted forest. But a tree is a tree. The empyrean wonders of the botanical realm, the ethereal ambassadors of nature’s grace…these stoic giants of the forest are the undisputed monarchs of arboreal beauty. Their ageless trunks and boughs that carry canopies of leaves and flowers and fruits over landscapes cast a fascinating spell with each rustling leaf. The oak and the acacia, the banyans and the willow, the maple, and the magnolia, each with their own unique allure, stand as splendid sentinels of time, towering towards the sky, yet deeply rooted on the earth we stand on. We often see them when we look out windows, or gaze beyond the roadside, or in the distance, introducing the skyline. Yet, even as they sway with the wind, we often forget, that these are living things.
Plants, in general, are not just nature's eye candy. They are exemplary living things. They are a veritable treasure trove of benefits––for humankind and the environment. But, first and foremost, they are food.
Food of the Earth
Both the earth and the seas spring up a daily botanical banquet of plants for all animals and humans to consume, providing the best natural sources for nourishment. And for humans, these generous offers even transcend the purpose of sustenance but rather extend to culinary arts where a range of gastronomical delights are produced, reproduced, innovated, and re-invented.
Since the beginning of time, man has been utilizing the plant kingdom to come up with a cornucopia of delicious wonders. Now in the age of the internet, there’s an explosion of food recipes, millions of them, instructing us how to use leaves, grass, sprigs, vegetables, root crops, grain, herbs, and fruits... in salads, soups, and smoothies, as spices, appetizers or main meals, all for our enjoyment of infinite flavors. It’s awesome.
Plants have also been humanity’s natural medicine, since time immemorial. Their leaves stems, and roots were the balms, oils, incense, teas, and tonics in the vaults of ancient pharmacies. From aspirin's precursor in willow bark to the soothing properties of chamomile, the first apothecaries prescribed plants as salves and remedies for all sorts of ailments. Animals, too, instinctively use plants as curative agents.
Chimpanzees consume specific leaves or tree bark that have natural anti-parasitic properties to help rid themselves of internal parasites. Macaque monkeys rub their fur with certain plants with antimicrobial and insect-repellent properties. Koalas are known for their exclusive diet of eucalyptus leaves not only for nutrition but also to combat dehydration. Honeybees collect resin from certain trees and mix it with beeswax and enzymes to create propolis for sealing, disinfecting, and protecting their hives from pathogens. Dolphins actively seek out seagrass, which they use to soothe their rostrums (snouts) from scratches, soreness, and lesions. Domestic dogs eat grass occasionally to self-medicate... particularly stomach ailments.
There’s a whole study of animals using plants as medicine. It’s called zoopharmacognosy. And the deeper one delves into it, the more amazed one gets by nature.
The Base of Ecosystems
Besides being food and medicine to other life on earth, plant life plays an enormous role in generating and sustaining ecosystems. Plants (trees especially) act like the lungs of the world, absorbing carbon dioxide while, in turn, releasing life-enabling oxygen. They also act as nature's purifiers, filtering pollutants from the air and water. Some plants actually absorb harmful substances from the air and water, process these, and then release them back to the environment cleansed, making the world a breathable haven for all life.
Plants also provide shelter and protection to animals and humans. From towering canopies of trees to rich duff of grass, fallen leaves, and twigs that blanket the ground, plants produce habitats for countless creatures. Diverse ecosystems, breeding grounds, and sanctuaries that spur sustainability and biodiversity for all species, in water and land, are anchored on botanical life.
Moreover, plants and trees are the roots of human civilization, becoming the catalyst for the invention of a gamut of things like textiles, dyes, clothing, paper, wood, houses, fuel, art, tools, crafts, and industries. On the bestowal by trees, shrubs, grass, and even dead, decayed, and fossilized vegetation––mankind has survived and thrived.
Plants also keep the world from spiraling down towards disastrous ecological conditions. The roots of plants anchor soil and prevent erosion, keeping steady the landscapes, lakes, and reefs. Foliage keeps the earth cool. And as plants perish, they keep the soil fertile. In an endless cycle of death and rebirth, plants ensure robust ecosystems for themselves and other organisms. But on top of all these that plants give to spawn life and maintain life, their intrinsic quality to replenish themselves is the most glorious. It is almost by design. And indeed it is.
An Ever-Reproducing Gift to Mankind
Genesis 1:11-13 states: "Then God said, 'Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.' And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.”
This command by God created the entire plant kingdom, with all its grandeur, abundance, and diversity. The regenerative power of plants is by His design. In obedience to their Creator, plants, replenish, germinate, and regenerate, each species employing unique methods for survival and showcasing remarkable adaptations that have evolved through time.
Plants produce fruits that, in turn, produce seeds that germinate upon touching soil water, and sunlight. Some plants stem from stems and grow roots and new shoots from stems. Some bud from the leaf. They grow after being dispersed by the wind, or after being digested by animals and dispersed as droppings. Even after what is perceived as the death of plants and trees, they grow. After disturbances from storms, forest fires, and deforestation by logging, they grow. They can be grafted artificially, connecting one stem to another’s roots, and they grow with the new attachment...as one new plant. The immensity of the entire plant kingdom’s resolve to obey what God had commanded astounds even the most cynical souls. Animals share the same propensity to let the plant kingdom propagate. And so should we.
Let there be…
Most of humanity cut down trees and kill vegetation without any regard for reforestation. Entire forests are cleared to give way to agriculture or urban development, despite knowing what the consequences would be: destroyed habitats, loss of biodiversity, disruption of ecosystems, and wholesale changes to climate…which could be devastating to all life. Have we become so maddened by our ambitions that we are reduced to the unutterable ignorance of men who lived inside dark, clammy caves?
Mega-factories discard toxic wastes that pollute water sources, adversely affecting all life around them, including life-giving plants. The use of powerful pesticides and other chemicals in agriculture, because of our desire to yield more from the earth, may result in environmental catastrophes that extend many degrees more than we care to admit. We are now in the era where we genetically modify organisms, tampering with seeds, both of plants and animals…and even humans, ignoring all moral, ethical, and environmental concerns as we interfere with the natural order.
It is a good thing animals still obey God’s command, letting the land produce vegetation, and letting plants and trees bear seed that will then grow to plants and trees that also bear seed according to their kind. And it’s good that some men and women also obey this command still, seeing plants as the wonders that they are, and not only as green things that stand in the way.
Every living thing in nature plays a unique role in the symphony of existence, and humanity has been entrusted with the profound responsibility of stewardship over all these. It is not only a divine directive between man and God, but a sacred covenant between humanity and the paradise bestowed upon us. We must tread nature with reverence and proper understanding of this role that is appointed to us. We are nature’s custodians, not just its consumers, much less its destroyers.
Anyone who’s truly hugged a tree knows that trees reciprocate the love given to them. Animals delight in them. All plants, in general, are a relief to some life form, or another. We owe the wind for often reminding us that plants are living things. animating them, and causing them to make rustling sounds. They speak, you know. Plants communicate.
Leaves whisper secrets. Barks have tales to tell. Trunks have riddles of olden days, and roots have a tome of legends buried underground. The language of plants may be forgotten, but those who still feel the expression of love through roses given to them, or those who still feel joy and celebrate at the sight of daisies and sunflowers––they understand.
And those who understand will tell you... that to lie sometimes on the grass, listening to the wind carry the voices of trees, is by no means a waste of time. God made the plant kingdom three days before He made the first man. Of course, it helps us to listen to what they have to say.