Column: Embrace the Power of Plants

By Phoebe Lindsay

Phoebe Lindsay, Executive Director of the Greenwich Botanical Center.

People need plants. To live. To function. To be happy. They are essential to who we are.

Plants produce oxygen, the breath of life. We eat plants, and, by many arguments, could survive easily by consuming only plants. Even when we eat meat, we are mostly eating the plants upon which herbivorous animals feed. We clothe ourselves with plants –fibers such as cotton, bamboo, hemp, and linen. Wool is produced by grass-eating sheep. Plants provide habitat—offering shade, protection, and camouflage. Have you ever walked into the forest on a hot day and felt the air is immediately cooler? They offer wood and other fibrous substances for tools, for shelter, for countless things. Plants provide us with pharmaceutical and naturopathic compounds for physical, mental and emotional healing. What would the world look like without caffeine, menthol, codeine, digitalin? These are just some of the compounds with which we are familiar.

Plants provide us with a world of beauty. Have you ever pondered the structure of an orchid flower or rested in a field of wildflowers? Have you ever stood next to a giant redwood? Plants are nothing if not magical – creatures that have adapted to their environments through the slow, yet beautifully efficient process of evolution.

Observing this beauty and transformation translates to all sorts of mental health benefits that many of us who garden and walk in the woods easily know, but that much of the world was only re-awoken to when Covid isolated us and then beckoned us to the outdoors. At a time of documented increased in anxiety and depression, nature and plants can be therapeutic.

So yes, people need plants. Plants, inherently—naturally—don’t need people. How do you survive when you can’t move? Plants know; we do not.

What we do know is that, as a society, we are neglecting the species on which our own depends. We are losing plant species at 500 times the natural rate of extinction due to human pressure, climate change and development. Many species have gone extinct in the United States since Columbus arrived on these shores.

Plant loss risks our current and future wellbeing. Because of the direct provisioning effects described earlier, but also because of the chain reaction that can occur with degradation of flora. Plants stabilize and enrich topsoil, without which agriculture, other domestic and wild plants cannot thrive. Degraded topsoil results in degraded plant life, which further degrades topsoil. The cycle leads to desertification, desolation, despair.

And we also risk losing what we have yet to discover. There are 320,000 known plant species in the world, and thousands more that we expect exist but have not identified. The hope is that we find them and the unique chemical compounds within, so useful for medicine and other applications, before they are lost forever.

What we need now are more people to protect and propagate plants. Becoming a protector and propagator of plants can start with the simple act of taking stock, each day, of all the ways in which you interact with plants, and how and why they are important to you. Another way is to deepen your knowledge and awareness of the species in our town. Come visit us at the Greenwich Botanical Center to learn more about what lives around us and the endless power of plants. Discover our nature immersion programs for young children, our adult program offerings, our May Gardener’s Market on May 6th, and our Grandiflora Garden Tour this June 9th and 10th by stopping in or by visiting our website We look forward to seeing you.

Phoebe Lindsay is the Executive Director of the Greenwich Botanical Center, a local non-profit dedicated to connecting people with plants and nature since 1957.

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