The Plant Kingdom
From Growing In Snow To 2,500 Tons
The Plant Kingdom is very important to human beings. We need plants to survive. We eat plants. Other animals eat plants. We depend upon plants to provide oxygen for us and take carbon dioxide out of our atmosphere. Plants such as trees give us shade. Flowers provide beautiful color for us. But, did you also know these important plant facts?
- There are over 275,000 species of plants ranging from tiny algae that can live below the surface of the snow to a sequoia that may weigh as much as 2,500 tons!
- Plants are an important source of medicine.
- Some plants can live to be 2,000 years old. A type of tree in Sierra Nevada may be as much as 4,900 years old.
- Certain kinds of plants help to monitor pollution levels.
- Sometimes people plant trees and shrubs that are harmful to the environment in which they live.
- Most plants make their own food using sunlight. This is a process called photosynthesis. Some plants, however, are carnivores. They trap insects and eat them!
As these plant facts show, the Plant Kingdom is a very diverse and complicated one. It is in this kingdom that the "father of Taxonomy," Carolus Linnaeus, was most interested. He collected and discovered many new species of plants. He used many plants as medicine because he was trained as a doctor. Did you know that Carolus Linnaeus was the Royal Physician to the King of Sweden? He was a man who had many talents!
Scientists who study plants are called botanists. They usually use the term divisions rather than phyla to divide plants into the first major category in the Linnaeus classification system. Remember that all living things are sorted into kingdoms. Within each kingdom, organisms are sorted into phyla. Phyla are further sorted into smaller groups until a specific organism is named as a species. Many scientists think of the word phyla as a zoology term. That is why the word division is used instead. As with other kingdoms, the plant classification system is always growing and changing. Botanists find new plants and discover facts about existing living things. It is important that scientists read journals, attend conferences, and meet with other specialists in their fields. Then they will learn about the latest discoveries. They can use the new knowledge in their own work.
Many times we think of endangered species as being animals. Plants can be endangered, too. Botanists study endangered plants such as the rose periwinkle. This plant grows in the rain forests of Madagascar. These rain forests are rapidly being destroyed. People need to save this plant. It is used to make medicine to treat childhood leukemia and other types of cancer! Other plants may also make good medicines. We just dont know about them yet. That is one reason we need to protect habitat around the world.
Another problem that botanists study is invasive plant species. Invasives are living things that do not naturally belong in an area. Some groups in Africa are trying to get rid of trees and shrubs that are not native to the area in which they now grow. These plants "drink" too much water. This upsets the natural balance of the environment. People and animals dont have enough water. The roots of these invasive plants dont reach far into the soil. Erosion can then occur. Governments and environmental groups are helping local people to work together to solve this problem.
There are many exciting, important areas of study for botanists. The chart on the next page shows you some of the divisions that make up this important kingdom. As you read the chart, notice the diversity in the Plant Kingdom. Imagine the range of species in this kingdom tiny plants that grow under the Arctic snow to immense sequoia trees!
Here are some activities for you to find out more about the Plant Kingdom and the way plants are classified:
- Look "under the microscope" in Maggies "Herd Of Elephants, Part 2" found at www.missmaggie.org. You will see a dichotomous key. This is one way scientists classify living things.
- Research plants that are used as medicine. Prepare a report for your class. You may want to construct a PowerPoint presentation, design a poster, or write an article to present your findings.
- Make a list of plants with your class. Decide where these plants would fit in the classification system.
- Take a plant survey of your own area. Are there plants that are not native to the land? Are they harmful?
- Make a list of all the things plants do for us.
- Find out about plants such as the rose periwinkle or café marron that are endangered. Why are they endangered? What would be the result of their disappearance from our planet? Are there plants in your area that are endangered?
- Take a field trip to your local drugstore. Look in the vitamin area. Read the labels of the vitamins and chart the many plants that are used in these compounds.