With all the focus on technology careers, math, and science, we might wonder, why is botany important? Why bother teaching kids about plants? Isn’t it enough that they know the basics? As a Master Herbalist, I’m biased, of course, but I have a definite list of answers to the question of why is botany important. Here are eight benefits of teaching botany.
Why is botany important? 8 benefits of teaching it
Many high school biology textbooks include botany as a small chapter buried within lots of microbiology and other topics. This may lead many young people to believe that botany isn’t important or that it isn’t very complex. Nothing could be further from the truth! Many, many careers require a lot of botanical knowledge. In fact, botany–not technology–holds the answers to many of the pressing issues of our time. So, let’s get into my eight benefits.
Teaching young people about botany prepares them to tackle the big problems of feeding large populations. Ever hear about genetically engineered food or patented seeds? Those things came from an understanding of plant genetics, a division of botany. Scientists at big agribusinesses study the genetics of crops so they can create pest and disease resistant strains. They do this by inserting genetic material from other organisms. These companies also use their knowledge to select crops with higher yields or other desirable traits. They then sell the genetically engineered seeds to farmers, hoping that the corn, wheat, and soy crops will be superior.
Personally, I am against genetically engineered plants. Intentionally adding genetic material from bacteria or other organisms is different than selective breeding. But, in order to combat this trend, we need more young people studying organic farming methods. We need to learn how to enhance and work with our food’s natural defenses.
Vegetable gardening is a lot like agriculture, but on a smaller scale. However, landscaping is also a form of gardening. How do landscapers know which plants will thrive in a given environment? How do they know which ones will complement each other? Just as in agriculture, people need to know their particular plants’ needs. They also need to know how to approach pest control and methods to improve the quality of the vegetables or flowers. All of these things involve some knowledge of botany. Teaching young people about gardening prepares them to successfully grow their own food and also create beauty. In recent years, growing your own food has become more and more important as challenges arise with transporting food worldwide. Growing your own food also provides the benefits of eating seasonally.
Botany is important to medicine
Did you know that at least 25% of all drugs are derived from plants? That’s right. Without these medications, many people would suffer. Even some common drugs such as aspirin were developed from plant chemicals. Of course, I prefer traditional herbal remedies and essential oils. And, in most parts of the world, these traditional remedies are all that’s available. But, even natural remedies require special botanical knowledge. And, it’s by spending time with tribal healers and studying traditional plant uses that researchers discover promising new medications. Your child could discover the cure for the world’s worst diseases in a remote jungle somewhere. Botany holds the answers to these pressing problems.
Another reason why botany is important is textiles. Textiles are basically fabrics. Most fabrics come from plants. This means that clothing, drapes, upholstery, shoes, bedding, and carpeting were created using plant-based materials. We need innovative solutions for fabrics that can be easily broken down and remade into new material. How about materials that protect us from sun damage, repel insects, and nurture our skin? Research into new and better textile plants may hold some answers.
We use more than wood from trees in our construction projects. What about rubber or bamboo? Learning more about sustainable forestry and rapid growth trees, shrubs, and canes may hold the keys to better housing materials. We need young people interested in botany to research recyclable, sustainable plants and trees suitable for building projects. The rapidly growing world needs new innovations for accommodating the expanding population and industry. Botany offers some possibilities.
This may not be a pressing need, but another reason why botany is important is wilderness survival. Most of us will never find ourselves in the situation of being lost in the woods, desert, or mountains. But, it does happen. And, in some parts of the world, people still forage for food and rely on the forest for sustenance. Knowing which plants are good for food, which ones are good for medicine, and which ones are poisonous could save your life. And, as I mentioned above, could provide clues for the development of new medications.
Botany is important to energy
Another benefit of teaching botany is a better understanding of the role of plants in energy use and production. For example, trees help control cooling costs during the summer months. And, straw bale homes are more energy efficient. In addition, homes furnished with wood furniture and not synthetics are more fire resistant. The study of plants also helps provide clues about solar energy and other renewable energy sources.
Lastly, plants play an important role in reducing air and water pollution. Knowing which trees to plant to improve air quality in cities and suburbs helps make them cleaner and more beautiful places to live. Learning about the best houseplants for cleaning indoor air can combat building sickness. And, studying wetlands offers some answers to water pollution problems and controlling flooding issues.
The reasons why botany is important is that botany is the only science you can’t live without. Air, water, and food all come through plants. Learning more about them may not only save your life, but it may make it better, too.