Not long ago, I had the pleasure of visiting the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher and participated in a behind-the-scenes tour. While taking it, we visited an octopus tank and learned that octopi have the ability to put together a dismembered Mister Potato Head® doll. They can also open a closed jar to retrieve their food inside – then screw the lid back on. How cool is that!?

Purple coneflower

Besides bringing colorful joy to the garden, purple coneflower is commonly used in herbal remedies.

Photo Credit: Bryce H. Lane

Pitcher plant

Bugs beware with pitcher plant around!

Photo Credit: Bryce H. Lane

Cool facts, yes. But what do octopi have to do with plants, you ask? Truth be told, not much. But hearing about the creatures’ astounding talents made me think about plants and some of their amazing capabilities, too. Here are just five of some of the unique characteristics plants have to offer:

  1. Plants make their own food. You may remember this from your grade school science class: Although they need water and nutrients to grow, plants actually manufacture their own food. They serve up their daily meals by converting sunlight into usable energy for plant functions through the process of photosynthesis. (Sure, we can make our own food with the help of the stove and a few good pots and pans, but it’s nowhere near as efficient or self-sufficient as the meals made by plants!)
  2. Some are edible. Yes, this likely seems a bit obvious, but if you really take a close look at your dinner plate, it’s wonderful to think that when we eat our vegetables, we’re eating different plant parts. Carrots, potatoes and turnips are roots. Celery is a stem. Lettuce and spinach are leaves. Corn kernels are seeds. And we can’t forget that the reproductive structures of some plants become the fruits we so often enjoy. There’s such an awesome variety of fruits and veggies to explore, too. From starfruit to gourds, the shapes alone can seem out of this world!
  3. Some can be toxic. The first plant many of us think of when it comes to toxicity is poison ivy. (The name alone is clue to that.) But there are a host of other plants that can cause poisoning if touched or ingested. It’s a plant’s way of surviving. As a rule of thumb, don’t go nibbling at random in the garden. (And make sure your kids know that very important rule, too!) Plants as common as oleander could be fatal if ingested!
  4. Some provide medicine. The world of medicine as we know it just wouldn’t be the same if it weren’t for plants. Both traditional and home remedies use the healing powers contained in plants (many of which are herbs). Just think of the last sunburn you had (painful, I know). That aloe felt pretty good in relieving the burn, didn’t it? (Thank you, Dr. Plants!)
  5. Some can eat meat. (Well, maybe not a pound of hamburger, but meat, nonetheless.) Carnivorous plants still need to perform photosynthesis to grow, but as their name suggests, they were created with structures to catch and digest insects. As a child, I have clear memories of being enamored with a Venus flytrap at my dad’s office. I just couldn’t believe I could actually watch a plant move before my eyes! (The pitcher plant is another carnivorous favorite you might want to try.)

Though some of these facts may seem elementary, they’re important to remember. We owe a lot of what we have to plants – from nutrition and good health to fresh air. Hey, plants may not be able to put together a Mister Potato Head, but they do help keep our world alive – and how many octopi can make that claim?