Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Leaf Magician

How lucky we are that alien magicians are not a rarity. Each and every leaf performs the same magic feat: they make sugar. Every animal on the planet survives at some level on the sugar plants create, but that's just an unimportant side result in the plant's perspective. The vast majority of food that all the plants produce is inedible, transformed into other plant parts. All animals together use less than three percent of the total yearly production.

Scientists are working hard so that someday humans may learn this function, but to completely do away with leafy plants would be impossible. They perform another magical feat. Leaves produce all the free oxygen lacing the atmosphere as a waste product of making sugar. To do this each leaf has small pore-like doors that absorb carbon dioxide and release excess water vapor, and unneeded oxygen into the air.

Within each leaf are many cell specialists, but all those containing green chlorophyll perform photosynthesis. This mysterious process uses sunshine to combine six molecules each of water and carbon dioxide to create a molecule of sugar and some loose oxygen molecules as a byproduct. For a miracle, it sounds so easy.

Most of the plant is composed of hydrogen, carbon and oxygen, but other chemicals are needed, too. The roots deliver most of these chemicals  but leaves also absorb some materials from the air. These chemicals are combined in many different ways to provide the plant all the parts it needs for growth and reproduction. It is those chemical combinations that provide humans the vast variety of substances and tastes we call vegetables and fruit.

The next time you see a human magician trying to flimflam his audience into believing something that isn't remember there are a host of alien beings making true magic. This is one reason I love plants, love gardening, and love science fiction-fantasy.

Spring is starting here at last. Now that I've made a connection between science, plants, gardening, aliens, fantasy, and science fiction, perhaps I'd better move on to the actual topic of gardening.

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