By: Zia Mahmood Minahs
|–Some Fascinating Facts about Plants –Carnivorous Pitcher Plants|
Allah’s beautiful Creations
Plants are the oldest inhabitants of earth and they appeared on land about 425 million years ago.They are the longest living organisms on this planet. Plants are estimated to have 300-315 thousand species. Plant and animal kingdoms are part of Allah’s grand design and are interdependent for their existence on this planet.
The plants are essential for life on earth because all food chains start with plants. The plants generate oxygen and consume carbon dioxide to manufacture their food through the process of photosynthesis. This process is also termed as carbon fixation. The plants are thus source of almost all atmospheric oxygen which is consumed by animals for respiration. The animals perish and decompose to form ingredients which are taken up by plant roots and utilized as food. Animals and plants thus create a delicate balance for sustenance of life upon earth. Of course water being a basic requirement for existence of life .
Some Fascinating Facts about Plants
-Titan Arum ( Amorphophallus titanum ) is a flowering plant with the largest inflorescence which can reach the size of 10 feet. It is also known as corpse plant or carrion flower due to its peculiar rotten meat like smell. With this smell it lures meat eating insects for pollination. The first flowering takes 7-10 years with subsequent flowers appearing every 2-3 years. The spathe which looks like a large petal generally starts opening in the evening and remains open during the night and then wilts. The flower is grown in private lawns with great interest and its blooming celebrated with enthusiasm. It has single leaf which may attain the height of 20 feet.
-The world’s tallest tree is California redwood or Coast redwood (Sequoia sempervivens). It is 379 feet tall. Sequoia trees are the oldest forest trees, estimated to be 4000-5000 years old. These trees have the record of largest trunks too.
-The world’s tiniest tree is dwarf willow (Salix herbacea). It is about 2 inches high. The dwarf willow spreads widely on surface soil but rarely exceeds 2.6 inch (6 cm)
-The oldest tree is in Sweden. Its root system has been growing for 9550 years.
-Bamboo is the fastest growing woody plant. It can grow 35 inches in a single day.
-Vanilla flavoring comes from vanilla plant. Its pods though called beans, are closely related to corn.
-Saffron used as a flavoring for food is harvested from the stigma of a fall blooming crocus (Crocus sativus ).
-Ninety percent of human food comes just from 30 plants.
-During 1600’s the tulips were so valuable that their bulbs were worth more than gold. Tulips continue to grow as much as an inch a day after being cut.
-The boabab tree, found in Africa is known for its huge water storage capacity i.e. up to 120,000 liters.
Rose family of plants includes in addition to rose flower apples, pears, plums, cherries, almonds and peaches.
-Pitcher plants are known for being predators of animals and feed on them. But a bigger species Nepenthes rajah has very interesting symbiotic relationship with animals like shrews and bats which benefits both of them. The pitchers of these plants are quite large and are used by these animals as toilet bowl. In turn the plants use the fecal matter, which is rich in nitrogen as food.
Carnivorous Pitcher Plants
These are mysterious meat eating plants belonging to families Nepenthaceae and Sarraceniaceae. These are also called pitcher plants due to peculiar shape of their leaves. Insects are mostly their prey but larger pitchers may trap bigger animals like frogs, snakes and birds.
-Their leaves are unique in the kingdom plantae since these are transformed for trapping the prey. These leaves are deeply curled to form a cup like structure which moves on mid vein. In some species the leaves are shaped like pitcher.
-These leaves have bright colors and attractive patterns to lure their prey. The pitchers are filled with sweet smelling sticky fluid having digestive chemicals similar to secretions in the stomach of animals.
-The unsuspecting prey lands on the pitcher in the hope of getting nectar and gets trapped in the sticky fluid. The contents of the fluid quickly dissolve the body of the prey and it is sucked into the plant system as food.
The process of utilization of carbon by plants and animals is unending and can be summarized as depicted in carbon cycle below.
أَلَمْ تَرَ أَنَّ اللَّـهَ أَنزَلَ مِنَ السَّمَاءِ مَاءً فَسَلَكَهُ يَنَابِيعَ
ثُمَّ يُخْرِجُ بِهِ زَرْعًا مُّخْتَلِفًا أَلْوَانُهُ ثُمَّ يَهِيجُ فَتَرَاهُ مُصْفَرًّا
ثُمَّ يَجْعَلُهُ حُطَامًا ۚ إِنَّ فِي
(ذَٰلِكَ لَذِكْرَىٰ لِأُولِي الْأَلْبَابِ﴿٢١
Have you not observed how Allah causes water to descend from the sky, making it flow as springs on the ground, then through it causes crops of diverse colors to sprout forth, then the crops dry out as you see them yellowing, then He turns it all into stubble? In this surely is a remembrance for men possessed of minds.
(Soorah Az-Zumar 39:21)
سَبِّحِ اسْمَ رَبِّكَ الْأَعْلَى ﴿١﴾ الَّذِي خَلَقَ فَسَوَّىٰ ﴿٢﴾ وَالَّذِي قَدَّرَ فَهَدَىٰ ﴿٣
(وَالَّذِي أَخْرَجَ الْمَرْعَىٰ ﴿٤﴾ فَجَعَلَهُ غُثَاءً أَحْوَىٰ ﴿٥
Glorify the name of your Lord, the Highest! Who created and proportioned; Who measured and guided; Who brought forth pastures then turned them into dark stubble.
(Soorah Al A’la 87:1-5)
The Qur’an Mentions Plants
There are a number of verses in Qur’an where Allah has stressed the importance of plants for human beings i.e.
( هُوَ الَّذِي أَنزَلَ مِنَ السَّمَاءِ مَاءً ۖ لَّكُم مِّنْهُ شَرَابٌ وَمِنْهُ شَجَرٌ فِيهِ تُسِيمُونَ ﴿١٠
يُنبِتُ لَكُم بِهِ الزَّرْعَ وَالزَّيْتُونَ وَالنَّخِيلَ وَالْأَعْنَابَ وَمِن كُلِّ
(الثَّمَرَاتِ ۗ إِنَّ فِي ذَٰلِكَ لَآيَةً لِّقَوْمٍ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ ﴿١١
He it is Who made water descend from the sky, of which some is for you to drink and some for trees whence you send your cattle to graze. With it He causes vegetation to sprout for your benefit: olives, palms and vines and all types of fruit. In this is a sign for a people who reflect.
(Soorah An-Nahl 16:10-11)
وَنَزَّلْنَا مِنَ السَّمَاءِ مَاءً مُّبَارَكًا فَأَنبَتْنَا بِهِ جَنَّاتٍ وَحَبَّ الْحَصِيدِ ﴿٩
(وَالنَّخْلَ بَاسِقَاتٍ لَّهَا طَلْعٌ نَّضِيدٌ ﴿١٠﴾ رِّزْقًا لِّلْعِبَادِ ۖ وَأَحْيَيْنَا بِهِ بَلْدَةً مَّيْتًا ۚ كَذَٰلِكَ الْخُرُوجُ ﴿١١
From the sky We sent down the blessed water, wherewith We caused gardens to flower and grains for the harvest, soaring palm trees, bearing serried clusters- Sustenance to mankind. With it We revived a region that was dead. Likewise shall be the Resurrection.
(Soorah Qaf 50:9-11)
أَمَّنْ خَلَقَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ وَأَنزَلَ لَكُم مِّنَ السَّمَاءِ مَاءً فَأَنبَتْنَا بِهِ حَدَائِقَ
(ذَاتَ بَهْجَةٍ مَّا كَانَ لَكُمْ أَن تُنبِتُوا شَجَرَهَا ۗ أَإِلَـٰهٌ مَّعَ اللَّـهِ ۚ بَلْ هُمْ قَوْمٌ يَعْدِلُونَ ﴿٦٠
Is it not He Who created the heavens and the earth? Who brought down water for you from the sky, from which We caused to sprout gardens most pleasing, whose trees you could not have planted? Is there another god with Allah? Indeed they are a people who set up equal to Allah!
(Soorah An-Naml 27: 60)
Significance of plants
-Plants are essential for sustenance of life on Earth. Plants are the only organisms capable of manufacturing their food which is utilized by other species.
-Plants are the providers of vital atmospheric component of oxygen which is essential for animal life.
-Plants provide food, habitat and congenial environment to other organisms. They temper with harsh climate to make it pleasant.
-Plants are major source of raw material for industries like wood, cotton, resins and oils etc.
-Plants have great medicinal value.There are 70,000 plant species that are used as medicine. Plant parts have been used as medicines from times immemorial. Neem plant (Azadirachta indica ) , Aloe vera and cinchona have been widely used as medicines for treatment of ailments and cosmetics.
-Wood, charcoal, alcohol, coal, petroleum by- products and coal are used as fuel. All these materials have plant origin.
-Rice, wheat and corn are staple food for humans and livestock. Countless types of fruits with delicious tastes and attractive colors take care of nutritional requirements of human beings as well as animals.
-Great number of spices and food additives have plant origin. Chlorophyll is used by chefs for coloring a wide variety of foods and beverages.
-Forests play a role in sustainable farming by protecting fertile soils against erosion.
-Plants have aesthetic value and have been a source of inspiration and enjoyment from the very beginning. Colorful flowers with intricate patterns and attractive smells have fascinated human beings for generations.
The plants grow from seed when put into soil under optimum environmental conditions. The seed absorbs water from the soil to sprout sending roots into soil. The seeds provide initial nutrition to the seedling which has been stored in it by the nature till the roots develop fully and stalks and green leaves emerge having chlorophyll for manufacture of food. Allah has mentioned this process in Qur’an in Soorah Al-An’am
إِنَّ اللَّـهَ فَالِقُ الْحَبِّ وَالنَّوَىٰ ۖ يُخْرِجُ الْحَيَّ مِنَ الْمَيِّتِ وَمُخْرِجُ الْمَيِّتِ مِنَ
(الْحَيِّ ۚ ذَٰلِكُمُ اللَّـهُ ۖ فَأَنَّىٰ تُؤْفَكُونَ ﴿٩٥
It is Allah Who splits open the seed and the pits. He causes the living to issue from the dead, and the dead to issue from the living. Behold the works of Allah! How can you deny?
(Soorah Al-An’am 6:95)
The root is underground part and acts as anchor the aerial parts to fix them firmly in soil. Its main function is to absorb water from the soil along with soluble plant nutrients. The nutrient solution is transported through stem to the aerial parts. From the leaf the dilute solution is concentrated while excessive water is evaporated to the atmosphere through the process of transpiration. The nutrients are utilized by the plants for food manufacture.
Photosynthesis is the process by which plants manufacture their food though it is also carried out by a few other organisms like algae. Organisms capable of photosynthesis are termed as ‘photoautotrophs’ This is the most significant process for the sustenance of life on this planet .It has been estimated that around 130 tetra watts of energy are captured by the process of photosynthesis. About 110-115 thousand million metric tons of carbon is converted into biomass annually. It takes place subject to following prerequisites.
-Presence of water
Photosynthesis is the process in which the plants convert the energy of sunlight into organic chemical energy in the form of carbohydrates i.e. sugars.
Photosynthesis is opposite of respiration in which glucose and other compounds are oxidised to produce carbon dioxide and water which results in release of energy for metabolic processes of the plant. Water is the basic requirement as it is essential for all biological processes. It occurs at optimum temperature and slows down or stops at low or extremely high temperature range. Photosynthesis takes place in day time when abundant solar radiation is available.
Carbon dioxide is crucial to photosynthesis since plants split it to utilize its carbon and oxygen is released in the air which is essential for survival of animals. Carbon dioxide ratio in atmosphere is just 0.035 %, but its role in plants hence existence of life is vital.
Chlorophyll: Chlorophyll is a chlorine pigment with magnesium at the centre of the chlorine ring which imparts green color to the leaves. It is present in plant cells in the chloroplasts which are mostly concentrated in the leaves. Each cell may contain from 10-100 chloroplasts and a square millimeter of leaf area can have 450,000 to 800,000 chloroplasts. The significance of chlorophyll has been mentioned in Soorah Al An’am:
وَهُوَ الَّذِي أَنزَلَ مِنَ السَّمَاءِ مَاءً فَأَخْرَجْنَا بِهِ نَبَاتَ
كُلِّ شَيْءٍ فَأَخْرَجْنَا مِنْهُ
خَضِرًا نُّخْرِجُ مِنْهُ حَبًّا مُّتَرَاكِبًا وَمِنَ النَّخْلِ مِن
طَلْعِهَا قِنْوَانٌ دَانِيَةٌ وَجَنَّاتٍ
مِّنْ أَعْنَابٍ وَالزَّيْتُونَ وَالرُّمَّانَ مُشْتَبِهًا وَغَيْرَ مُتَشَابِهٍ ۗ
انظُرُوا إِلَىٰ ثَمَرِهِ إِذَا أَثْمَرَ
(وَيَنْعِهِ ۚ إِنَّ فِي ذَٰلِكُمْ لَآيَاتٍ لِّقَوْمٍ يُؤْمِنُونَ ﴿٩٩
It is He Who brought down from heaven water with which We bring forth vegetation of all kinds. From which We bring forth greenery, From which We bring forth close-packed grains. And from the palm trees, from its wreaths, cluster of dates, near to hand, And gardens of vine, olive and pomegranate, resembling and not resembling one another. Behold their fruits when ripe and ready to pluck! In these are signs for a people who believe.
(Soorah Al- An’am 6:99)
Here the reference to green contents in plants i.e. chlorophyll and its link to production of all fruits and crops has been explicitly established. The Arabic word ‘Khadran’, means green and has been taken as referring to chlorophyll by scholars including Maurice Bucaille.
The process of photosynthesis is highly complex and scientists have not yet been able to decipher it completely. The end product i.e. sugar is the result of many intermediates. The simplest reaction is depicted in the following equation:
6H2O +6CO2 light C6H12O6+6O2
Water +carbon dioxide sugar +oxygen
The sugar undergoes many transformations before they are stored in fruits, tubers, seeds or other plant parts. The stored food is recycled to breakdown complex sugar to simpler forms in the process of respiration. The energy thus released is used by plants in different biological process for existence of their species.
Qur’an Points Out Oxygen Generation by Plants
Allah says in Qur’an
( الَّذِي جَعَلَ لَكُم مِّنَ الشَّجَرِ الْأَخْضَرِ نَارًا فَإِذَا أَنتُم مِّنْهُ تُوقِدُونَ ﴿٨٠
It is He Who procured fire for you from green trees, from which you kindle a flame.
(Soorah Ya Sin 36:80)
As we have seen oxygen is essential for the process of combustion. Oxygen is produced by plants in the process of photosynthesis which takes place due to reactions induced by green matter in leaves i.e. chlorophyll. Here Allah says that fire has been produced by Him out of green trees which is a clear reference to release of oxygen because trees/wood burn only when dry and not while green. When we study the verses of Soorah Ya- Sin from 75-81, the topic is Allah’s power of resurrection of human being on the day of judgement. This is a discreet pointer to this fact because burning produces carbon dioxide which is released into the atmosphere and ashes which return to soil. Apparently the matter is destroyed, but same is resurrected with the process of photosynthesis and nutrient uptake by plants from soil. New plants are born and the eternal cycle of living things coming out of dead and dead things coming out of living goes on.
Reproduction in plants:
Plants like all living organisms reproduce for survival of their species. Plants produce seeds which in turn germinate and grow to full bloom plants/trees, though asexual reproduction is also common. Based on mode of reproduction the plants have been classified as under:
Gymnosperms: Non flowering plants. They don’t produce seed and reproduce asexually.
Angiosperms : Flowering plants which produce seed.
Sexual reproduction: It involves fusion of male and female gametes (pollen and egg) to produce a new plant through reproductive cycle.
Asexual reproduction: It is growing of new plants involving vegetative parts of parent plants like cuttings, buds, grafting, roots, stems, suckers and tissue culture. This is cloning and the new plants resemble in characteristics and appearance to those of the parents.
Seeds and fruits are produced from flowers. A typical flower has following parts though wide variation and adaptations prevail:-
Calyx: This is the outermost whorl which is usually green and consists of units called sepals. Sepals enclose other flower parts in the bud stage. Variations in size and color are found in some flowers.
Corolla: This whorl contains petals which are mostly delicate and have attractive color to seduce insects and other animals for pollination. The petals are arranged in symmetrical forms which are used by botanists to establish relationship among plant species. If there is more than one flower on an axis, the cluster is called inflorescence.
Stamens (Androecium): The next whorl consisting of units called stamens which form male reproductive organs. Stamens consists of two parts; stalk called filament, topped by anther where pollen is produced and dispersed.
Carpel/ovary (Gynoecium): This is female reproductive part of the flower. This is the innermost whorl of a flower, consisting of one or more units called carpels. The carpels fuse to form hollow structure, the ovary. Gynoecium consisting of ovary, stigma, and style is also termed as pistil. The ovary produces ovules or eggs.
It is amazing to note that the scientists discovered that plants have male and female parts in nineteenth century. The Qur’an has explicitly mentioned the existence of male and female parts in the following verses:
(وَمِن كُلِّ شَيْءٍ خَلَقْنَا زَوْجَيْنِ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَذَكَّرُونَ ﴿٤٩
From every species We created a pair that you may ponder and reflect.
(Soorah Adh-Dhariyat 51:49)
وَهُوَ الَّذِي مَدَّ الْأَرْضَ وَجَعَلَ فِيهَا رَوَاسِيَ وَأَنْهَارًا ۖ وَمِن كُلِّ الثَّمَرَاتِ جَعَلَ فِيهَا زَوْجَيْنِ
(اثْنَيْنِ ۖ يُغْشِي اللَّيْلَ النَّهَارَ ۚ إِنَّ فِي ذَٰلِكَ لَآيَاتٍ لِّقَوْمٍ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ ﴿٣
He it was Who spread out the earth and placed in it towering mountains and rivers. Of all the fruits He planted therein two pairs. He causes night to envelop day. In these are wonders for a people who reflect.
(Soorah Ar-R’ad 13:3)
(سُبْحَانَ الَّذِي خَلَقَ الْأَزْوَاجَ كُلَّهَا مِمَّا تُنبِتُ الْأَرْضُ وَمِنْ أَنفُسِهِمْ وَمِمَّا لَا يَعْلَمُونَ ﴿٣٦
Glory be to Him Who created all kinds in pairs of what the earth produces, of themselves and what they know not.
(Soorah Ya Sin 36:36)
The pollen produced by anthers having spores reaches the pistil to fertilize the female eggs and the process of reproduction sets in. Male and female parts having half number of chromosomes fuse to produce fruits and seeds. The process of access of pollen to the female part of the flower is termed as pollination.
Some flowers are fertilized from the pollen by the same flower which is called self pollination. If pollens of other plants fertilize, it is termed as cross pollination. Various carriers perform in this important process i.e.
Pollination by insects and other animals: Insects and other animals play an important role in pollination. They are attracted to the flowers by scent, bright colors or collection of nectar as food. While visiting flowers, pollen sticks to their body parts and they transfer it to female parts while visiting other flowers.
Pollination by air: Air is a major agent in transfer of pollen to female parts. Pollen of plants using air as pollination agent is light produced in great numbers and dry. The flowers of such plants are not attractive and pollen has little nutritional value since this is not required.
Qur’an refers to the process of pollination in Soorah Al-Hijr
(وَأَرْسَلْنَا الرِّيَاحَ لَوَاقِحَ فَأَنزَلْنَا مِنَ السَّمَاءِ مَاءً فَأَسْقَيْنَاكُمُوهُ وَمَا أَنتُمْ لَهُ بِخَازِنِينَ ﴿٢٢
And We send forth impregnating winds; We bring down water from the sky and give you to drink thereof, but you are not its keepers.
(Soorah Al- Hijr 15:22)
In these verses only wind has been mentioned since it is the major source of pollination. Since water is required immediately after pollination its indication follows in the verse.
After fertilization the ovary develops into fruit/seed and reproductive cycle is complete.
As we know, the people of Mecca were traders, not familiar with fruit plants or heavy yielding farm produce, since Mecca was a barren arid region. Qur’an has, however, given fascinating details of towering trees laden with attractive and delicious fruits. All these descriptions are to argue the humans to worship Allah only and abide by divine code of conduct. Everything however is compatible to scientific discoveries made centuries afterwards.