Plant power

By TheHindu on 15 Nov 2016 | read
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Water hyacinth(above) serves as a detoxification model while Calotropis (below) is a medicinal weed.
Plants playa very important role in societal life, especially in terms of health, food, detoxification and aesthetics, saysPauline Deborah R.

There’s so much of plant talk going around the world. Doctors recommend herbs for curing certain ailments; psychologists advice a closer involvement with plants and flowers for psychotherapy; engineers attempt to simulate technology using trees as their working model; chemists derive ideas of detoxifying systems from plants involved in sludge or effluent digestion; geologists look for plants that ensure ground-stability . And then there are the amateurs who participate in tree walks, nature treks, gardening classes and read a lot of self-help books to know more about the power of plants.

Plants play a very important role in societal life, especially in terms of health, food, detoxification, aesthetics etc. Sometimes, plants give ideas to thinkers, movers and shakers. Isaac Newton’s laws of gravity became a hit after he was hit by an apple. Even now, students in Cambridge hang an apple tied to a thread, on the young tree that is in front of the hostel room. A branch of that original Newton’s tree is also being propagated at the Cambridge Botanical garden. Well, what an impact, the gravitational laws created on public domain after the apple episode!

Plants for Eco-remediation

Many plants can efficiently trap, accumulate and even breakdown recalcitrant, toxic wastes from its habitat. A classic example is Water Hyacinth ( Eichhornia crassipes ), a noxious and exotic weed from South America, introduced into the city for its beautiful mauve-coloured flowers and peculiar-looking inflated petiole. Also known as pregnant-tuber, because of its swollen stalk, it is a free-floating water plant with a densely matted root system and can withstand extreme stress levels of pH, temperature and even toxicity. But this plant has highly turned invasive, clogging water ways by its gregarious spreading on the water surface thereby cutting off the necessary abiotic parameters thus escalating the biological oxygen demand for the life forms below. Soon they decay resulting in eutrophication, thus sparking off another problematic phenomenon, algal blooms. Controlling their growth is difficult though periodic attempts are made manually, mechanically, biologically and chemically to eliminate them. However, under controlled conditions, these plants are powerful models of detoxification systems which are capable of reducing stress to the water body caused by industrial effluents, cadmium, copper and zinc. Chetpet lake is an excellent water-catchment reservoir in the heart of the city that collects water during the rainy season, also attracting few migratory water birds. But soon thereafter a single propagule of water hyacinth lands on the water surface and propagates very rapidly, thus converting a oligotrophic lake into a eutrophic one and eventually into a dry ground facilitating cricket pitch for local boys.

Plants as Pharmaceuticals

Herbal remedies are bouncing back to popularity because of their efficacy, availability and non-toxicity. Popularly known as granny’s therapy, various backyard plants and kitchen ingredients are quickly prescribed to combat basic ailments: pepper or Siamese – ginger ( Alpinia galanga ) for throat-related ailments, ginger and asafoetida for gastric problems, Keezhanelli for liver-related disorders, Pirandai for joint-pain, neem for helminth infections, guava leaves for tooth pain, Calotropis leaf for external inflammation, Notonia for insect bites, Sansevieria for ear pain, Stevia as a sugar substitute, Aloe for skin care, Andrographis for neutralizing snake venom, carpet weed for dandruff, Asian Pennywort for memory power, Thulasi for cold and cough, turmeric as an antiseptic, fenugreek as coolant, and the more recently advocated combo for dengue – the extract of papaya, nila vembu and malai vembu. However, the quantity and quality of the raw drug matters a lot, which otherwise might pose a great threat to the body metabolism.

Plants for Psychotherapy

Stress, frustration, over-worked, tension, are common buzzwords among the working class nowadays. Amidst various remedies, a psycho-therapist recommends gardening or nature walk, which is a great stress-buster. A simple self-maintained garden gives ample sense of satisfaction, thrill, pride and happiness, while observing the renewal and revival of plant life – a calm sense of giving new life and care to plants. Indoor plants too give a great sense of pleasure and also are greatly responsible for imbibing the indoor gaseous and particulate pollutants. Garden therapy is a highly successful method to alleviate stress-related disorders and discomfort.

Plant Power

The term ‘technology’ is more often associated with abstract machines, passive gadgets and robotic equipment. But phrases like plant technology, biotechnology, herbal technology are hogging the limelight more than before. Plant power can never be underestimated. Be it carbon-trapping, power generation, food security, coastal clean-up, waste management – plants not only provide possible clues but also pragmatic solutions.

Isaac Newton’s laws of gravity became a hit after he was hit by an apple

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