Today, 13 April, we celebrate International Plant Appreciation day - a perfect opportunity to give some extra love and admiration to your plants (just careful not to overwater!).
Try to imagine a world without plants for just one moment. That’s right, you simply can’t! These sunlight-eating, CO2-breathing, multicellular organisms are what gives us oxygen to breathe, food to eat, fibres to wear, medicines to heal, materials to build shelter, and the list could go on forever.
Plants have been the source of inspiration to painters, poets, engineers and scientists alike. Think of Monet’s Waterlilies, Newton’s apple, and the numerous products that have been designed and patented under the ‘Lotus-Effect’ trademark, including house paint that never needs washing and non-stick honey spoons.
At Candide we love all plants, from the rancid-smelling corpse flower (Amorphophallus titanum), the almost overlooked liverworts, the ancient cycads, to that stubborn dandelion that keeps coming up in the vegetable garden. However, today we’d like to highlight seven plants that had a significant impact on the world and deserves a position in the Plant Hall of Fame.
There are of course numerous plants to add to this list, so we want to encourage YOU to post your favourite plant or one you choose to admire today and use the hashtag #PlantAppreciationDay!
1 | Cotton
This plant has taken the world by storm and is arguably the most important nonfood crop on Earth. Cotton, from the genus Gossypium, belongs to the mallow family Malvaceae. Cotton is a soft and fluffy natural fibre that is harvested from the seed ball of a cotton plant and consists almost exclusively of cellulose. Cotton is spun into yarn, that then gets woven to create soft and durable fabric.
Take a look around you and you’ll soon be able to find numerous items made from cotton - from clothing to towels, linen, coffee filters, fishing nets, bookbinding, bandages, curtains, even those Levi jeans in your cupboard.
Cotton | Gossypium
2 | Sweet Peas
These little legumes are not just pretty faces - sweet peas have played a very significant role in the history of genetics.
In 1856, a time when heredity was poorly understood and the word ‘gene’ did not even exist, Gregory Mendel began his eight-year-long experiment on sweet peas in a monastery garden in Austria. He bred and crossbred sweet peas to note what traits were passed on to the next generation and those that were not.
His groundbreaking discoveries were only recognized 40 years after, and will be admired for centuries to come, just like the sweet pea.
Sweet pea | Lathyrus odoratus
3 | Tea
Tea (Camellia sinensis) has been cultivated in China as early as 6000 years ago and although it used to be much more scarce and valuable, today it is the second most consumed beverage in the world (water being the first).
Camellia sinensis has a very long and culturally significant history. Tea, as we know and enjoy it today, was actually first eaten as a vegetable and only shifted to a drink around 1500 years ago.
In the 1700s China was still the only country where tea was grown, making it one of China’s most essential export goods, along with silk and porcelain. Tea also travelled from China to Japan where the Japanese developed their own traditional tea ceremonies, and also to the rest of the world so everyone could enjoy a ‘tea-break’.
4 | Bamboo
When it comes to usefulness and speed of growth one plant stands out beyond the rest - bamboo. Bamboo belongs to the grass family Poaceae with over 1000 documented species.
The strength-to-weight ratio of bamboo is similar to that of timber, making it incredibly useful in building structures. Bamboo’s uses range from building materials, clothing, furniture, to a viable source of food.
Furthermore, in a time of climate change, resource depletion and threatened ecosystems, bamboo is proving to be one of the most sustainable and renewable sources on Earth. More households are turning to bamboo products to replace plastic items, like toothbrushes, straws, cutlery, and even accessories like watches and sunglasses.
Now, of course, we cannot overlook the beautiful flora on our own front doorstep - here are a few indigenous plants that played a significant role in South African homes and history.
5 | Buchu
Buchu is well-known in many South African households and has been used for centuries as a folk remedy (boereraat). Although there are three types of buchus, the one most commonly used for medicinal purposes is short buchu - Agathosma betulina.
Agathosma betulina is a fragrant shrub restricted to the slopes of mountain ranges between Nieuwoudtville, Piketberg and Tulbagh in the Western Cape. The leaves contain highly aromatic oils and are often enjoyed as a tea and in traditional medicine to treat urinary tract infections, gout and rheumatism.
Buchu left South African soils for the first time in the 18th century when it was exported to Britain. Due to its scarcity and high value, only the wealthy in Europe could afford it and it was therefore called ‘nobles’ tea’. Buchu even made it aboard the Titanic.
6 | Wood's Cycad
Although very handsome, Encephalartos woodii is not striking any luck with the ladies - that’s because there aren’t any! This cycad is not only famous for being extinct in nature, but also for the fact that no female specimens have ever been found.
Wood’s cycad is named after John Medley Wood who in 1895 discovered four plants in the Ngoye forest in Kwa-Zulu Natal - the only Encephalartos woodii plants ever found, all of them male.
7 | Welwitschia mirabilis
Welwitschia has been said to be the most unusual and remarkable plant ever to exist. This bizarre living fossil grows two leaves from the centre of the stem, and they grow non-stop. Its natural habitat is in the dry desert region of the Kalahari and Namibian desert so the long leaves play an important role in capturing the fog that gets blown over by the Atlantic. Male and female plants occur separately and Welwitschia is believed to grow 2000 years old.