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Useful plants and fungi

Plants and fungi are essential for human wellbeing; they provide us with food, medicine, fibres, fuel, building materials and many other products. In addition, plants hold great cultural meaning for people all over the world.

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Hoodia gordonii in Namibia
Discover the plants that are used in the beauty industry for cosmetics, skincare and fragrances.
Rubber plantation, Cameroon
Plants provide all manner of materials used in construction. These range from timbers and rattans to resins and waxes used in paints and other products. Without plants we would be hard-pressed to build ourselves shelter and homes.
Detail of holly leaf with berry
Whether you are decking the halls with boughs of holly, kissing under the mistletoe or nibbling roasted chestnuts, you will find plants closely interwoven with Christmas and midwinter traditions.
Photo of Gossypium herbaceum (cotton plant)
Paper, ropes, cords and textiles are all made from plant fibres. These are elongated cells with very thick cell walls found in plant stems, leaves, bark and seeds.
Photo of Capsicum annuum fruits
Most of the global population rely on crops from just 30 plant species in their diet. However, many more species are important food sources - around 7,000 plant species have been used by humans for food - and fungi also play a vital role in food...
Sugar cane (Saccharum officinarum)
Plants are an important source of fuel for cooking, boiling water and keeping ourselves warm.
Photo of Commiphora myrrha
Many plants produce gums and resins, which are used to make a wide range of products.
Madagascar periwinkle
Plants and fungi are a vital part of healthcare. Over 80% of the global population rely on traditional medicine, much of which is based on plant remedies. Traditional Chinese medicine alone uses over 5,000 plant species.
Holly berries
Humans have built close relationships with plants in the environment surrounding them and strong traditions and beliefs regarding particular species have developed over time.

Why People Need Plants

A compelling book from Kew Publishing that explores the crucial role that plants play in the everyday lives of all of us.

image of book cover

Plants: From Roots to Riches

This fascinating companion to the BBC Radio 4 series explores how our relationship with plants has transformed overthe last 250 years.

Cover of From Roots to Riches