Happy Fascination of Plants Day! That is, if you’re not too busy celebrating Sea Monkey Day, Museum Day, or preparing for Pick Strawberries Day on Monday. It’s true there are many ‘days’ competing for our attention. But unlike picking strawberries, appreciating plants only takes a few moments. And plants are seriously amazing.
As a city dweller, plants were something I never really appreciated. Once I tried to grow a veggie patch on my balcony and I got a rash as soon as I put my hand within an inch of the tomato vine. I’m sure many city dwellers are plant aficionados, so maybe “naive urbanite” is a more fitting title for me.
Anyway, a few years back I moved to the Northern Territory. When I was walking to pick up the keys to my house I was fascinated, and somewhat confused, at the plants lining the footpath. The bush looked almost dead, but had an odd ‘flower’ on it. At the time I could only describe this as “a cotton bud”. Like the ones you buy in a packet from Coles. When I expressed my surprise to my new colleagues, they laughed at me. A lot.
I had no idea what a cotton plant looked like. I was just beginning a postgraduate degree in Environmental Management, and I only had a vague idea of where my food came from. Or how my clothing was made. I felt silly, and quite ignorant. As I spoke to more people about it, I realised it’s a common problem.
Generally people don’t have a strong appreciation of what plants do for us. We know that they convert carbon dioxide into oxygen, provide food, clothing and building materials. But we don’t appreciate this as these processes are so foreign, because our food comes from Coles, our clothes from Myer and our building materials from Bunnings. The appreciation in lost in not knowing how food travels from farm to plate, how fibres like cotton are spun into fabric.
Cotton, for example, has been cultivated for over 5,000 years all around the world. Despite the geographic divide between cotton farmers, the crop has been cleaned, spun and weaved in the same manner everywhere. Tiny cotton seeds are super durable, and can survive been blown for thousands of kilometres and even across bodies of water. And if you don’t think cotton is sexy, it’s a relative of the hibiscus, both belong to the Gossypium genus of plants.
CSIRO have been researching and growing cotton in country NSW for 40 years. Over that time, our research has improved yield, disease resistance and fibre quality. All while supporting a rural economy.
Next time you think plants are boring, think again. Think about what you had for breakfast, what your clothing is made out of and the amazing fact that they actually convert carbon dioxide into oxygen. Plants are seriously fascinating.