Are Endangered Plants Worthy of Protection

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"Are Endangered Plants Worthy of Protection"
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In the plant kingdom is our future - this is not some far-fetched wacky point of view but a fact. Plants hae always been the source of life for us. They are the first organisms to harvest energy from the sun, they form the base of the food chain and are vital for life. More than that, they have provided many important things that we need in order to remain on this planet.

Plants have provided medicines and poisons. Medicines in the form of natural analgesics, digestives, antibiotics and saponites (cleansers). They have also provided poisonous compounds to help us deal with pests and diseases. Pyrethrum- a widely used insecticide- was originally derived from the flowers of chrysanthemums. Aspirin was derived from willow bark and many bacterial washes have been derived from plants. Chemicals which are useful in the fight against cancer, pain, diaorrhea, vomiting and many other symptoms of disease have been found by using plants known to native people, isolating the active chemicals and using or even synthesising them to create many of the widely used drugs we know today.

However, we have only scraped the surface of what plants can do for us and each species we lose may hold unimaginable wealth in terms of chemicals, compounds and properties which we could use. Once they are gone, we lose access to their benefits for ever.

The other thing about many endangered plants is that they are the best source of genetic material we have so we can improve our modern species. Native species of grass for example resist ergot, rust and other diseases and our monocultures of wheat and barley are susceptible to any strain of disease which becomes immune to the chemicals we treat the crops with. So, if we lose the genetic pool, we lose the chance to breed natural resistance to disease, fungi and pests. By doing this, it means we lose the chance to breed the plants and so we rely increasingly on the need of chemicals like herbicides and pesticides, which damage the food chain and ultimately will be our downfall.

It used to be that growers of, for example, asters, started to buy F1 hybrids because they were resistant to mould and flowered for longer with larger blooms. The old varieties declined and we nearly lost them. However, f1 hybrids do not breed true from seed and growers quickly realised they needed to keep a mainstay population of the old types in order to have access to genetic material to breed new varieties. Hence natioanal collections of many species of plants from asters to zinnias are kept and maintained.

Plants hold the key to our survival - especially as other resources run out. Oil and coal will fail one day but plants are a renewable energy source and it could be that it the endangered plants which hold the key to fast growth, disease resistance and the future fuel supplies. We should not be losing any plant- especially endangered ones as with each species lost, so our hope of survival declines.

More about this author: Sammy Stein

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