Plants and Us
Helping our well-being by caring for plants
by Ketan Alder
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To consider how caring for plants can support our well-being.
Preparation and materials
- You will need the PowerPoint slide that accompanies this assembly (Plants and Us) and the means to display it.
- Let’s begin with an amazing thought: your life, my life, the lives of our friends and families, the lives of local people and the lives of people all over the world - all of our lives are impossible without plants!
- Ask the students whether they can think of some practical ways in which humans use plants.
Allow a few minutes for discussion.
Make the following observations.
- We write and read things on plant-derived material like paper.
- We wear clothes made from plant-based fabrics such as cotton and linen.
- We eat various plant-based products.
- Our buildings often contain plant-derived material such as wood.
- We walk around in rubber-soled shoes, and travel in vehicles that have rubber tyres.
- Humans have always had a relationship with the plants around them, and this connection goes much deeper than simply what we can make from them. We admire them for their beauty too.
Some of the earliest evidence of ornamental gardens is found in ancient Egyptian tomb paintings that date from the sixteenth century BC. Several hundred years later, in present-day Iraq, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon - one of the seven wonders of the ancient world - were built.
- We can tell a lot about our relationship with plants by listening to how people talk about them. We may hear people saying that plants are hungry or thirsty, or have grown so quickly that they’ve gone berserk. They may be described as drooping and looking sad, and if they haven’t grown quickly enough, they might be called lazy.
This type of language indicates that we imbue plants with human characteristics. It is how we understand them, and it creates a sense of intimacy, especially in the way that we care for plants and possibly even speak to them.
Plants are part of our lives in an emotional sense; we do not only have a practical relationship with them. And without plants, few other life forms could survive.
- Show Slide 1.
Along the south coast of England, on the South Downs, a special relationship has developed between a butterfly - the adonis blue - and a plant - the horseshoe vetch. Both live in the same area of small hills. The butterfly lays its eggs under the plant’s leaves and, in time, the eggs hatch into caterpillars, which then feed on the plant.
If the horseshoe vetch’s habitat were destroyed, the plant would die, the butterflies would have no food-rich place to lay their eggs, the caterpillars would have nothing to eat and the adonis blue butterfly population would collapse.
- Plants form the first step in the food chain and are integral to our lives and those of other animals and plants. The extinction of one plant threatens the lives of others that relied on that plant.
- Compared to plants, humans arrived on earth relatively recently. Plants made earth habitable for humans.
- The greatest and most rapid human-induced changes to the earth’s environment have occurred within the past 50 years. Some of these changes have resulted in the irreversible loss of plant life.
According to New Scientist magazine, humans have driven nearly 600 plant species to extinction since the 1750s. This is due to a range of reasons, including exploitation, habitat loss, pollution, the introduction of invasive species and climate change. Recent research has found that nearly half of all plants that flower are at risk of extinction, amounting to more than 100,000.
- However, there is plenty that we can do to protect plants and nature. And the great news is that protecting plants supports our well-being too!
Growing plants, whether indoors or outside, can be a wonderful journey of discovery. It can have a really positive impact on us, others and the plants themselves. Growing plants is great for our well-being because all of our senses are engaged: smell, sight, sound, touch and taste are all involved in the process.
In addition, the cyclical pattern of plant cultivation makes us feel better. We see ourselves as part of nature, and it gives us time to think and relax.
Some of the other benefits of gardening include better fitness and improved strength, balance and hand–eye coordination.
And of course, if we’re growing food, there is the reward of eating the produce, and the benefits for our health.
- If we don’t have a garden of our own, we can apply to the local council for an allotment. Alternatively, we can help out in a friend’s garden, or simply buy a plant of our own and grow it on the windowsill. Then, we’ll get the chance to see the miracle of life first-hand on a daily basis. It’s incredible!
Time for reflection
This brings us back to where we began. Plants are needed for much more than food; they are part of our vocation for caring for others. Caring for plants is part of caring for creation, and taking care of plants recognizes the importance of all life to God the creator.
In the words of Ernesto Cardenal, a priest from Nicaragua in Central America, ‘All creation is a temple . . . every tree, stone, lizard, rabbit, meteor, comet and star to us is holy.’
Let’s take a moment to reflect: what small steps can we take to help protect plants and support our health?
You call us to be good stewards of this earthly home.
Strengthen us to care for your creation.
Forgive us when, through our greed and indifference, we abuse its beauty and damage its potential.
Empower us through your Spirit to nurture and love the world, so that all creation sings to your glory.