Americans live within a culture of superlatives—the tallest building, fastest automobile, most populous city, costliest motion picture, and so on. Always seeking an event or superhero to top all others, we look farther and farther into space, probe deeper into the oceans, and con­trive an endless array of mechanical gadgetry. Yet within sight of us all at nearly all times are marvels of nature whose simple existence allows our survival and whose wonders are taken for granted although only partially understood.

Green plants produce and recycle the oxygen on which animal life depends. They capture the energy of the sun and convert it into forms usable by humans and other animals. Plants are the only living organ­isms capable of manufacturing their own food. Surely if only one plant existed on the entire earth, it would rank as the foremost wonder of the world: an oxygen and food factory.

Fortunately for us, the plant kingdom dominates the biological world and gives generously to us while asking only for a pollution-free environment and suitable habitat in return. In addition to their prin­ciple services of energy conversion, food manufacture, and oxygen pro­duction (through the process known as photosynthesis), plants offer us food products, medicines, fermenting agents, lumber, dyes, clothing, lubricants, fuel, flowers, fragrances, shade, glorious autumn colors, vines to swing on, and challenges to climb. Plants are synonymous with natural landscapes. They nurture us physically as well as psychologi­cally. They inspire us, refresh us, and regenerate our lives.

Updated: September 23, 2015 — 9:40 pm