Plants and People
• The study of plants is called botany. The practical applications of botany are evident in agriculture, which is the raising of crops and livestock for food or other uses.
• Humans have cultivated plants for approximately 11,000 years and have changed, by selection, many plant species so much that these plants can no longer survive in the wild.
• Food crops can be classified in many ways, including by their use and by their taxonomic classification.
• The major part of the human diet is provided by a few cereal crops in the grass family, especially corn, wheat, and rice.
• Everyday definitions of fruits and vegetables are different from botanical definitions. Many common vegetables, such as green beans, tomatoes, squash, and pumpkins, are actually fruits. Botanically speaking, a fruit is the part of a flowering plant that usually contains seeds.
• Plants provide many important medicines, such as digitalis, quinine, morphine, and anti-cancer drugs.
• Several factors have increased food production, including the use of fertilizers and pesticides. As land is cultivated to produce an adequate food supply, the health of the environment is compromised by soil erosion, depleted water supplies, and pollution.
• Plants provide thousands of nonfood products, including clothing, fabric dye, lumber, paper, cosmetics, fuel, cork, rubber, turpentine, and pesticides.
• Ornamental plants improve the human environment in many important ways: they provide shade, minimize soil erosion, reduce noise, and lower home energy costs.
• Plant ecology is the study of the interactions between plants and the environment.
• Plants play a major role in recycling the Earth's water, oxygen, carbon dioxide, and inorganic nutrients.
• Plants provide animals with inorganic nutrients as well as organic nutrients.
• Most plant roots are penetrated by beneficial mycorrhizal fungi, which greatly increase the roots' ability to absorb inorganic nutrients.
• Most nitrogen in living organisms must first be fixed by bacteria, which may live in association with plant roots, especially the roots of legumes.
• Plants associate with animals in many mutually beneficial ways. For example, plants provide food to animals that protect them or carry their pollen.
• People have affected wild plant populations negatively by introducing foreign species of plants, animals, and disease organisms.
• Plants can cause harm in several ways. Many deaths are caused by addictive plant products. Some plant species are poisonous when eaten or touched. And millions of people suffer from allergies to pollen.
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