The Battle for Supremacy: Plants vs. People

Words by
Karina Sharpe
Images by
Karina Sharpe
| May 5, 2014

According to Genesis, in the beginning, the creator made the heavens and earth. He made the light and the sky, He made the water into seas, and the dry ground into land, and on the third day He made vegetation. Then, after He’d made the sun, the moon, and the stars, He made the living creatures: first those of the water, then those of the sky, followed by those that move along the ground. Finally, on the sixth day, he made mankind. So, according to Genesis, plants beat people by three days.

Yet mankind was given governance over every living creature: those that belonged to the sea, the sky and the ground. And every green plant was given as food. Plants were the consumables. Man was the Authority.

In the beginning, according to science, there was nothing in existence before the Big Bang. Afterwards the universe appeared from nowhere and everything was hot.  The first cells fed themselves on organic molecules using fermentation, the pollutant of which was then used by smarter cells to extract energy – the origin of photosynthesis. These smarter cells became early plants and looked a bit like scum. 475 million years ago, the sea scums, like algae, migrated to the coast and developed into land plants. Sea animals – following their migrating food source – slumped ashore, sprouted legs and became air-breathers. Then,  2.5 million years ago – through a combination of symbiosis, adaptation, evolution and monkey business – mankind came into being and took over the world.

So, despite several million years, Science and Genesis seem to agree: plants claim priority, but man took reign – an issue of precedence vs sovereignty.

From that time forth, evolution has propelled humans to the top of the food chain, and either as a result, or because of that process, gifted humans with mental superiority over all living creatures currently known to man – including plants. The human mind advanced far beyond the ability to think, plan and act. Man obtained the ability to ‘conclude’ and, more importantly, the ability to ‘suppose’ – to presume, assume and deduce. It is this that allowed mankind to ‘outsmart’, and then, with ruthless abandonment, man learnt the means to control. Man learnt to conquer.

'Bound'. A creative image, made especially for The Planthunter, about the ego of Man, and our oblivion to our reliance on the natural world.

Naturally weapons followed: both those of steel and those of substance, and while it may have been the plant world that gave us hemlock and cyanide (it’s in apple seeds, you know), it was mankind who discovered arsenic. We found it in the ground and used it to eradicate unwanted things, including plants and each other.  We made herbicides and pesticides and insecticides and while we were at it, we made antidotes and medicines and concoctions for chemical warfare and while we were at that, we levelled the forests and built towns and then cities. We built our industrial factories so that we could build more stuff.  We made concrete and houses and cars and surgical equipment, boats and lawn mowers, chainsaws and hedge trimmers. We built our inventions, and with our inventions, we created technology and brought about the world as we know it today.

Mankind has walked on the moon and landed stuff on Mars. We can have conversations across the oceans. We walk upright and can plant our gardens as we please. Recently, we learnt how to genetically modify. Now, we are learning to clone. Man has built a seat of power so high that dampers are needed to absorb the vibration of the wind.

We are well and truly on our high horse.

But let me ask you, where does our high horse get her nourishment? And how much of our everyday life is the way it is because of plants?

Our medicines, including morphine and aspirin, are still largely derived from, or patterned after, natural plant compounds.

Our technological civilization is, in part, powered by fossil fuels, which are the product of old dead rotten plants, buried under layers of dirt and rock and chemically change over billions of years into oil, coal and natural gas – which are, of course, virtually non-renewable, unless somebody hurries up and invents a time machine so we can go back eons and bury more rotten stuff.

And speaking of inventing, researchers from Ohio State University recently mimicked the hair formation on a common water weed to create a new superior waterproof fabric – which is likely to be tremendously useful if sea levels continue to rise – thanks water plant.

And then there’s coffee.

So who, really, is supreme – people or plants?

Hypothetically, if there was an apocalypse, which of our species would be the most likely to survive and creep through the cracks? We only have to look to Hollywood for the answer to that.

And if humans ceased to be, would plants suffer or would they flourish without us?

And what of people, if plants came to an end? If man went forth, united in his supremacy, with his chainsaws and herbicides and concrete, and eradicated every living plant from the surface of the earth and the depths of the oceans, how long would he last?

I’m not sure it would be long enough for somebody to build us a really big space-station, and apart from the starvation factor, sadly, we would most likely perish from our very own breath.

So it seems, despite everything, mankind is the dependent one, the reliant one. And while we may be the smartest creatures on Earth, people are essentially nothing without plants.

Plus, plants smell better (in my opinion).

'Material Girl'. A creative image, made especially for The Planthunter, looking at ‘the triviality of materialism’ in comparison to nature.
'Lawn Shoes'. A creative image, made especially for The Planthunter, touching on the notion that nature is an indispensable component of human progress.

LIKE WHAT YOU'RE READING? SIGN UP FOR MORE