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How Humans Use Plants

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  • 0:02 What Are Plants?
  • 0:54 Plants as a Food Source
  • 1:42 Plants as Clothing & Shelter
  • 3:03 Plants: Medicine,…
  • 4:53 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

In this lesson, we will explore the importance of plants in our world. We will also learn many ways humans use them both commercially and in daily life.

What Are Plants?

A plant is a living organism that absorbs water and nutrients through its roots and creates energy from light through photosynthesis. Plants are generally green in color and include trees, shrubs, herbs, grasses, ferns, and mosses. Plants are distinctly different from the other three types of living organisms: animals, fungi, and bacteria.

Humans are entirely dependent on plants, both directly and indirectly. Plants provide food, clothing, shelter, fuel, and many other things necessary for life. Plants are an important part of every food chain. Even things that don't appear to be related to plants, like meat and dairy products, would not be possible without the grass and grain that are fed to the livestock. Let's review each of the ways humans use plants in more detail.

Plants as a Food Source

One of the most obvious ways humans rely on plants, is for food. Humans can only survive about three weeks without food, and a good portion of the food chain is comprised of plants. Plants are grown commercially the world over, and the most produced crops are sugar cane, corn, wheat, rice, and potatoes.

To put it into perspective, 1.7 million metric tons of sugar cane are produced each year. Grain crops are also heavily produced because they not only feed humans, but livestock as well. Cattle, for example, are largely fed corn, barley, and oats. It takes between 6 and 20 pounds of corn, and around 1800 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef. Without these particular plants and many others, animal life on Earth, including humans, simply wouldn't be able to survive.

Plants as Clothing & Shelter

Although it's more controversial these days, animals have always been commonly used to create clothing. This includes all natural materials like wool, fur, leather, and silk. Historically, humans would never have survived in colder parts of the world if they hadn't had the ability to make clothing using animals. However, modern technology allows us the option to create fibers made from plants instead, like cotton and hemp. Natural plant fibers give us a lot more options, to create different types of fabric, and their versatility is endless.

Between 4,000 and 11,000 years ago, humans became the first animals on Earth to use trees and other plants to build shelters. Not only was wood common for building shelters, but many other building materials came from plants as well. Climbing palms, known as rattan, were used to produce shelters in more tropical areas of the world. Cork, which comes from the Cork oak, was used for flooring material. Without having to worry about being exposed to the elements, insects, or the prying eyes of enemy groups, humans were able to focus on making progress in many other areas. The use of plants in shelter building continues to this day. People all over the world incorporate different plant materials into their home designs for both aesthetic and functional purposes.

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