Economic Botany: A Textbook of Useful Plants and Plant Products

By Albert F. Hill | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I
THE IMPORTANCE AND NATURE OF PLANT PRODUCTS

THE IMPORTANCE OF PLANTS AND PLANT PRODUCTS TO MANKIND

The average man is likely to consider himself as a being apart from the rest of the organic world, enabled by reason of his superior intellect to lead a self-sufficient and independent existence. He loses sight of the fact, or is ignorant of it, that he is absolutely dependent on other organisms for his very life, and his material happiness as well. His superior intelligence has made him more dependent rather than less so. Although various animal and mineral products contribute to his welfare, it is the plant kingdom that is most essential to man's well-being.

Man's dependence on plants for the essentials of his existence has been of paramount importance in his life since the human race began. Primitive man probably had few needs other than food and a little shelter. Civilization, however, has brought with it an ever-increasing complexity, and has increased man's requirements to an amazing degree. The man of today is no longer content merely to exist, with food and shelter as his only wants. He desires other commodities as well, and raw materials that can be converted into the many useful articles and products which contribute to his enjoyment of life, and which incidentally increase his debt to plants.

The three great necessities of life--food, clothing, and shelter--and a host of other useful products are supplied in great part by plants. An adequate food supply is, and always has been, man's most outstanding need. In the last analysis all his food comes from plants. To be sure he may eat the flesh of animals, but these lower animals are just as dependent on plants as man himself, and they are equally unable to manufacture any of their food from raw materials. Clothing and shelter, the other prime necessities of life, are derived in great part from plant fibers and from wood. Wood is one of the most useful plant commodities in the world today, and it played an even greater role in the past. Aside from its use as a structural material, wood is valuable as a source of paper, rayon, various chemicals, and fuel. Other types of fuel, such as coal and petroleum, make available for man the energy stored up by plants that lived and died ages ago. Drugs, used to cure disease and relieve suffering, are to a great extent plant products. Industry is dependent on plants for many of its raw materials. Cork; tanning

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