Plants are all around us. They give Ireland its green mantle and its national colour. Seen from the air, the country is dominated by plants except in the most urban of settings.
They provide us with the food we eat and the oxygen we breathe. The fuels we burn to keep us warm and drive our economy come from plants, and our single largest industry – agriculture – is based on plants (even when we call it “livestock” farming). Plants are truly the foundation of life on Earth.
People encounter plants more than any other living thing: in gardens, in parks, in fields, in woods, in lakes and everywhere we go, there are plants. They clothe our landscapes, adorn our lives and inspire us with the beauty of their flowers and their diversity of colour and form. Yet most of the time we take them for granted, according to Plant Atlas 2020.
We treat them as the background, and what we notice most are things that break the continuity of that background: people, animals, structures and other artefacts. It was not always so. Our ancestors depended on their knowledge of their surroundings and what grew where for their food, fuel, medicines and forage for livestock.
As a society, we no longer have that urgent incentive, say the co-authors of the 20-year survey by the Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland, and as a result we are rapidly losing our connection with the natural world as a whole. Our dependence on nature, however, is not diminished. It just works differently through the myriads of amazingly complex and subtle relationships between human activity, plants and the rest of the natural world.
The decline in awareness of plants has occurred when plants need our attention the most. Globally, we know that 40 per cent of plant species are threatened with extinction.
Many insects and other forms of life depend on specific plants, so the extinction of plants leads in turn to the extinction of many other things.
In the “Ireland Red List”, 18 per cent of plant species are in one of the threat categories and a further 9 per cent are on a waiting list because of insufficient data. The decline of native species means in many instances a heightened risk of extinction, so time is not on our side.
Source: Ireland’s Changing Flora – A summary of Plant Atlas 2020 results