This I Believe

Janna - Miami, Florida
Entered on March 2, 2007

This I believe…

I have a confession to make: I am fascinated by plants. While this fetish seems benign when compared to others, it leads me to talk incessantly about them—at school (where I study them), with my family, even at parties. The more I learn about them, the more I want to share just how cool they are. I even emailed Jay Leno to see whether he would have plants on his show—a correlate to his shows with lions, tigers, and alligators. I didn’t get a reply from Jay, and I imagine the intern who read the email probably huffed and told his officemates—Hey check this one out. She’s nuts. But really, when you think about it, nuts are good for your health.

But today, I don’t want to talk about plants exactly. There are myriad little factoids I could throw at you—such as: half of our drugs are derived from plant chemicals. Or I could discuss human nutrition and weight loss from eating healthy plants, or how we need to buy local crops to save on fuel emissions. But no, I have bigger concerns. I am worried that people walking down the street, or children playing in a yard, have no idea that there are plants around them. They seem oblivious. Do people notice a tree growing out of a concrete block (except to make sure it doesn’t crack the sidewalk), or grass in the yard (unless it needs to be watered), or the delicate balance between milkweeds growing along the highway and the migrating monarch butterflies?

It’s not that I blame people. As costs of living go up and up, people have to work more and more. They often don’t have time to stop and smell the flowers. Their children spend more and more time indoors, protected from the elements or from strangers. My own daughter seems to spend more and more time in front of the TV, until I catch her eye with some sidewalk chalk or her tricycle—to be used outside only. Even at schools, children play on rubberized mats, not on grass. As a child, I remember playing among the roots of a huge old oak tree in our school yard. I thought it was the Giving Tree. We planted daffodils and maple trees to beautify the school on Earth Day. We were stimulated to learn about the outdoors, the beauty of our country’s natural heritage, and the impacts of our actions on the earth.

So I recommend to people: go outside more. Go to our national parks, or just go down the street and find some plants. Look up plants on the internet, or purchase a field guidebook. Find out about that drug you’re taking and see if it came from a plant (even birth control pills came from the Mexican Yam). You will probably be surprised and intrigued at what you discover, even if you’re not a plant nut like me.

And after all that, I must tell you what I believe. I believe that remaining oblivious to the plants around us equates to ignoring part of our culture, part of our humanity. Our country was founded on the backs of farmers and field hands—people who grew plants and cared for animals. Our economy still has a foundation on plants—exports of corn and soy, for example. Every day, we consume vast amounts of foods that are derived from…yes…plants. Coffee, tea, the corn syrup in soda, wine, beer, our fruits and vegetables, spices, breads, cereals, oils, nuts…they are all plants. Do you know where they come from, before the grocery store? We even wear plants on our bodies, with cottons and linens. Our houses are partially constructed of wood and plant-derived glues. Our books and paper are from trees. The perfumes and aesthetics of plants are considered intricate art forms. And do I dare mention the oxygen we breathe? It’s…from plants.

We are literally surrounded by plants—covered in plants, ingesting plants—and yet we do not see them. I believe that if our eyes were unveiled, we would be able to see how much we rely on plants. Then we would feel moved to participate more in the conservation of our environment, our country’s natural heritage, our farmlands, yards and gardens. We wouldn’t use so many chemicals on our yards and foods. We would respect more of the creatures of the earth and the raw, sheer beauty of the land. This I believe is the seed of understanding…next time you walk down the street, stop and notice the flowers (and give them a good sniff).