Without green plants, life as we know it would not exist. Every day the sun drenches our life-filled planet with energy. Some energy bounces off the air enveloping Earth and is lost in space. Some heats our land and stirs up air masses into what we call weather. And some falls on to green plants, which are among life's miracle workers.
Through a complex process not yet fully understood, green plants — which contain chlorophyll — catch the sun's energy and use it to manufacture their food. This is called photosynthesis.
The process begins with a drop of water that seeps into the soil, gathering up carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen — the building blocks of life. The plant's plumbing system transfers these nutrients to the leaves, which absorb carbon dioxide from the air. Then, using the energy of sunlight, the plant manufactures carbohydrates (sugars), which are its food. The waste product given off by this process is oxygen, a vital element for all living things. You could think of green plants as the lungs of the world.
Only about one percent of the sun's energy that falls on a plant is converted into plant matter. But amazingly, the entire animal kingdom — including the human race — depends on that one percent.
Greening for Wildlife
We're lucky in Canada! Our country is incredibly green. Almost half of it is covered in forested land. In fact, Canada supports 10 percent of the world's supply of forests.
But every year, we lose millions of hectares of our forests, ranging from enormous wilderness areas to parts of our own backyards. Some of this loss is beyond our control: nature takes its toll through disease and fire caused by lightning. But a lot of it is caused by people and can be avoided or minimized with some common-sense planning and care.
We have a lot to lose if we let our green heritage erode, and so does wildlife. When greenery disappears, so do vital parts of wildlife habitat, the living quarters of wild animals. After all, plants are vital sources of food and shelter for wildlife.
Green plants really are essential. These food-producing wonders, called the producers, are a vital part of any natural community. Primary consumers (the herbivores) eat them and serve as a vital bridge from the plants to secondary producers (the carnivores, sometimes called meat eaters). Primary producers are the critical link in the food chain, nourishing us and other predators with nutrients from plants that we cannot eat. The first link in the chain is the soil; the second is the green plant; the third is the herbivore; and the final link is the carnivore.
Don't forget that wild plants, like trees and shrubs, are wildlife too. Whenever we protect or re-establish plant communities, we give our green-leaved friends a boost. And that goes a long way towards preserving our natural heritage.
Play it Safe
We take safety into account in all the projects we suggest. We urge you to do the same if you want to develop your own activities. Here are some suggestions to keep in mind for safety's sake:
- Small groups often work best. If you're working in a forest or around water, take extra precautions.
- Brief your students fully about planned activities and make sure they wear proper foot gear and clothing.
- Hats, insect repellent, sun protection lotion, or warm winter clothing may be necessary.
- A buddy system can help prevent students from getting lost or separated.
- Older students or parent volunteers add to the safety and fun!
- Plan your project with care. It's essential to success.
- Seek permission from appropriate sources.
- Locate available resources.
- Contact local organizations.
- Arrange transportation if necessary.
- Follow up on your project.
- Plan for long-term requirements of your plantings.
- Develop a manageable project.
Now you're ready to get started! Take your pick of projects — and remember, enthusiasm is contagious! Spread it around!
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