Can We Create A Plant To Save The World?
If you know me, you’ll know I’ve long been interested in science. I’ve had an idea for fighting climate change stewing in my brain for a few years, and I think now is the time to share, because although it’s somewhat ridiculous, we don’t much time left - at a certain point, there will be no turning back.
To set up my idea (it won’t make any sense without context), allow me to introduce you lovely people to four lovely plants and one not-so-lovely vine.
Areca palm (Dypsis/Chrysalidocarpus lutescens), Mother-in-Law’s Tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata), money plant (Pachira aquatica / Epipremnum aureum), and the Fukien tea tree (Carmona retusa) all clean the air at an impressive rate compared to other plants. By the way, we’re talking single plant vs. single plant, not a little tea tree vs. a forest of Redwoods. The areca palm is a palm, of course, a flowering plant native to Madagascar and South India. The areca removes CO2 and adds oxygen back in, filters xylene (a chemical created by catalytic reforming and coal carbonization) and toluene (found in crude oil) from the air, and also acts as a decent humidifier. Mother-in-Law’s Tongue also filters CO2 – at night! An impressive feat for a plant, which is why Kamal Meattle (the man allergic to Delhi’s air, of TED talk fame) calls it a “bedroom plant.” The “money” plant is purportedly very common, if you want to make it comfortable, use hydroponics to grow it. This one removes formaldehyde and friends (other creepy and dangerous chemicals) from the area around wherever you choose to stick it. The Fukien tea tree – my favorite! – filters CO2 as well, no more than any of the other plants, but in the form of a little bonsai tree you can put almost anywhere in your home or workspace, just as long as you keep it moist. You can even put it on a billboard, as the otherwise not-that-ecological Coca Cola did in 2011: https://adage.com/article/goodworks/coca-cola-plants-a-green-billboard/228582/ As far as my research goes, nothing like that has ever been done again.
These are the lovely plants, the ones you could survive in an airtight room with.
The kudzu vine (Pueraria lobata / montana) is not lovely, or particularly helpful – yet. It’s one of the most annoying plants the United States has ever dealt with. As a native plant living in most of East and Southeast Asia (plus some islands), it’s more or less fine. But as an invasive species? It’s a crude, spreading plant. It was introduced to the U.S. from Japan in 1876, and during the Dust Bowl, the Civilian Conservation Corps embraced it with full steam as a solution to erosion. It grows quite fast, “2,500 acres (1,000 ha) a year,” according to Bill Finch for the Smithsonian. It’s swallowed abandoned houses. There is something even worse than the kudzu vine, called the Asian privet, “which covers 3,200,000 acres (1,300,000 ha).” But I don’t want to deal with something too unruly. Kudzu is more than fine for now. We can go bigger after a test run. (A test run of what, you may ask?)
Now that you have context, I feel good about the likelihood of you understanding this phrase: “We need to genetically splice four of the best natural air filters with a fast-growing but manageable invasive plant to create a hybrid plant that acts as a bigger, constantly growing filter.” There could be different varieties for the four air filter plants, or we could mush them all into one.
I’ll admit, it’s not mandatory to do this – it’s a very strange idea that might not actually be practical. Using the genetic equivalent of scissors and a tweezer to take the air filters out of one plant and put them into another, arguably worse plant (that comes with a few terrible bugs) isn’t the best idea at first glance. But, I beg you all to consider:
- As part of the journey to create a perfect hybrid that has many of both (or all) of the different plants’ characteristics, we could edit out the bug problem.
- Imagine a natural air filter that you didn’t have to maintain in any way other than leaving it alone. The fact is, it would take human intervention just to get rid of – the kudzu part of our potential hybrid is very resilient, and likes to do its own thing. You’d take it home in a pot from a special supplier or nursery, set it up at your windowsill (or at least near an open window, for your own sake), and it’d cover the outside of your building in a few years – like a blooming green wall. You’d trim around the windows and doors, and protect other plants, but other than that, the only “plant care” we’d provide is creating it. This would be amazingly convenient.
- It’d be pretty.
The only thing is, I do not have the resources or credentials to do this. I’m a teenager. But I do not want to wait. We do not have a lot of time to solve global warming, and almost nobody does good work alone anyways, so. If you are someone with the right mind, credentials, and tools, and you want to work with me on making this happen, email me! At email@example.com, with the subject line “Big Green Monster” – if you have a problem with the practicality of my idea, and wish to offer constructive criticism, leave a comment down below.