Single-celled photosygenic algae.
(Steve Gschmeissner /Getty Images)
The term photosynthesis means “putting together with light” and it is a process essential to all life. It is what is responsible for the oxygen in the atmosphere by taking carbon dioxide by all breathing organisms and reintroducing it as oxygen.
All plants with green leaves, from the tiniest mosses to enormous and tall trees, are gatherers of light through the miracle of this photosynthesis as they generate energy and substances from solar light. Through the magic of green plants, the radiant energy of the sun is captured in a leaf’s structure and made available to all things.
Through the light of the sun the cycles and rhythms of the Earth are established.
Each dawn is a rebirth, and every morning as soon as the sun rises, flowers open and green leaves start their daily manufacturing activity processing carbon dioxide into oxygen while the plant’s roots absorb water and mineral salts from the ground.
Animals and humans breathe in oxygen produced by plants and exhale carbon dioxide as a waste product. In a complex chemical reaction the leaves of trees and plants trap solar light, and together with water absorbed by the roots and carried into the foliage these substances are combined with carbon-dioxide to produce organic sugars – the food and energy the plant needs for its survival.
From the air, carbon dioxide moves into the green foliage of plants through tiny openings in the plant’s leaves where it is collected in their cells. And oxygen moves out of the plant leaf through these same openings and into the air we breathe.
And in this sense, we breathe each other in and out of existence, plants and us.
Every inhale we make is a magical interaction and energetic interplay needed as supply for our own cells. And with every breath, we literally inhale the history of the world – as particles exhaled by dinosaurs or traces of ingredients such as molecules from Cleopatra’s perfumes or remnants bearing traces back to the stardust from the universe’s creation may still be lingering in this invisible, ever-present thing we call air – as Sam Kean tells us in his book ‘Caesar’s Last Breath, the epic story of the Air around us’.
“The air that fills your lungs carries oxygen that was produced by photosynthesis. You are breathing in the exhalations of forests. The oxygen that passes into your lungs and into your blood, and eventually becomes part of every living cell in your body, is born of the touch of sunlight on leaves.
When breath passes out of your body, it carries carbon dioxide into the world to eventually nourish and become part of trees. So your experience of breath is literally an experience of the world passing through you, sustaining the reality of your life, which in turn transforms it to help sustain the life of the world.
Spiritual traditions the world over have developed disciplines and practices to bring attention to the breath – for it puts you in touch not just with your life, but with the life coursing through the moment. Similary the words animal, psyche, spirituality and inspiration all trace their roots back to words meaning ‘breath’. Your experience of your breath is foundational not just to your life, but to your experience of life.”
– Philip Shepherd, Radical Wholeness
Plants are alchemical bodies of the earth and purifiers of the biosphere. They clean the air and combat climate change.
Trees absorb pollutant gasses and filter tiny harmful particles out of the air by trapping them to their leaves, which they then absorb through their ‘pores’. Each part of the tree contributes to climate control, from leaves to roots. As all parts of the plant respire – the leaves, the stem, the roots and even the flowers. They also trap heat, and in this way they are alleviating greenhouse gas.
So trees and forests are crucial to our species survival on this planet.
The amount of oxygen a tree produces depends on several factors – the particular spices of tree, size, age and health as well as the tree’s surroundings. And quite obvious to us, the tree also produces different amounts of oxygen during summer and winter. But on average, a typical calculation estimates that a mature leafy tree can administer enough oxygen in a season for ten people to inhale in a year.
Plants have been partners in the evolution of our own species since the beginning of human experience. Nature has provided everything we have needed, and plants are precious ‘raw materials’.
They are essential for providing our food and shelter, healing in times of sickness, energy and equipment. But they have also greatly contributed to our developing consciousness and spiritual experience. Nature and all its wonders have always provided inspiration – the shapes and astonishing forms and forces of the natural world, the beauty and intriguing scents of the plant world that stir our senses. Nature has the ability to move and excite, inspire, relax and refresh us – all important factors for our health and wellbeing, providing us with both physical and spiritual nourishment.
Even how essential plants are for our survival and how dependent we are of them, the Earth is not a lumberyard, nor is Nature a backdrop to our human race and a resource to be raped, burnt, hacked, abused and exploited for our own convenience. Nature is nothing we can control and take position of. It belongs to itself, and we are made from it.
Micro picture of a cross-cut of a Clematis plant cell.
Plants, as well as humans are products of nature, and some of the compounds in plants perform the same functions in the human body.
Yes, in some ways we are not that far removed from plants…really.
Take for example the substance giving plants their green coloration, chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is also called ‘the green blood of plants’ and it is the molecule in plants that traps sunlight and converts it into energy.
One of the most interesting aspects of chlorophyll is how closely it resembles in structure our own blood cells, as our red blood cells are built on the same molecular pattern.
This green pigment is practically identical to hemoglobin, one of the most important constituents of our cells. It is the molecule that carries oxygen in our own bloodstream and it is also the pigment that gives our blood its red colour. The only major difference in the chemical make-up between the two molecule structures is the centre atom. As hemoglobin contain iron and chlorophyll magnesium.
The chlorophyll molecule has the unique capacity to transmute energy of the sun into chemical energy.
There are also numerous benefits of chlorophyll for us humans, as it helps to do the job of hemoglobin when ingested. Chlorophyl supports the production and regeneration of hemoglobin and aids in health of circulation, cleansing and balancing the PH of the body and increasing the number of blood cells amongst many other things. So eat (/drink) herbs and green leafy vegetables!
Like the ebbs and flows of the Earth’s natural cycles that live inside us, plants too are cyclical beings and they follow the seasonal cycles of the year. As the weather differs throughout each season, plants change too. The kind of trees that shed their leaves slow down all their cellular operations during the winter season. And as summer gives way to autumn and when trees sense the change in light and the cooling temperatures, they start preparing for a well deserved rest. As growth slows, so does chlorophyll production and the leaves begin to change colour. And when cold weather approaches, plants loose their leaves to conserve moisture and energy inside in order to stay alive. Life slows down and they are slipping into hibernation to survive the cold weather. They go dormant with the new season’s quiescence, ‘close their eyes’ (Chloroplasts that are light receptors) and return to their roots throughout the cold of winter, until the they wake up to the new bright and warm sunlight and start growing and making life from light anew in the springtime.
The year’s wheel has spun once more and with it buds sprout and open and chlorophyll again starts spinning light into greenness.