Wildflower is published quarterly by the Wildflower Center. Its content is national in scope with articles about the conservation and use of native plants as well as news from the Wildflower Center. A subscription is provided to Wildflower Center members as a benefit of membership.
|It's not often that we deviate from our native plants message in the pages of this magazine, but some plants are so important to human health and the economy that they can forcefully remind us of the need to understand and protect our plant heritage. The previous issue of Native Plants discussed invasive plant species, which are second only to habitat destruction as the greatest cause of native plant extinction and loss of native plant biodiversity. |
In this issue, we turn our attention in one of our feature articles - "Crop Marks" (pages 24-29) - to plants that changed the world, the topic of this year's Distinguished Lecturer Series co-sponsored by the Wildflower Center and one of its newest affiliates, the Botanical Research Institute of Texas.
Throughout history, plants have influenced and shaped the economy, politics, and social structure of nearly every country on the planet. They have launched periods of economic progress and also been central to some of humankind's darkest hours. Plant species have stimulated technological, medical, and military innovation. They also helped spark the slave trade and shifted the balance of world power. At one time, plants made Great Britain the world's richest superpower, while bankrupting other nations and destroying governments. They have led to war and terrorism, fueled mass migrations of people, stimulated expansionist movements through the creation of wealth, and caused the exploitation of indigenous cultures.
What are these ordinary plants that have such extraordinary power? Horticulturist and author of Empire of Plants and The Plant Hunters Dr. Toby Musgrave spoke recently at the Wildflower Center about the complex and fascinating socioeconomic, political, and botanical history of what he considers the six most important crops of the nineteenth century: opium, cotton, tea, sugar, rubber, and quinine. In October, Franklin Wilson of the Dallas Historical Society told the story of cotton - the "fabric of our lives" and once the economic mainstay of the southern United States. In November, author Larry Zuckerman examined social history through the eye of the lazy root, the potato. This spring, other lecturers will speak to the impact of three other plants on the world stage: chocolate, coffee, and grapes.
Though most of these plant species are not native to North America, reflecting on their historic and current role in human history should deepen our respect for the plants that surround us. From their life-giving oxygen to food, clothing, medicine, and shelter, plants provide the essentials of life. Simply put, a world without plants is a world without us.
When we realize that the full potential for human benefit from even very common plants like rubber and tea has continued to evolve over time, we are reminded of the critical need to protect native plant biodiversity. Who knows what is the next plant that may change the world by yielding a vital new food crop, providing a powerful cancer drug, producing a resilient fiber, or conserving limited water supplies?
When you rise tomorrow morning and enjoy a cup of sugar-sweetened tea or coffee before slipping on your cotton shirt and spinning rubber tires to get to work - take a moment to envision life without the plants in your world.